“Are you and our family planning to attending any county fairs this summer?” asks Rose Cantu, RN, Infection Control Nurse at Prairie du Chien Memorial Hospital. “It is a thrilling experience for children of all ages to have a face-to-face experience with a rabbit, lamb, dairy calf or other animals. Unfortunately, some people become sick every year because of a visit to an animal exhibit. It is important to remember that animals sometimes carry germs that are harmful to humans. When people forget to wash their hands after petting an animal, or bring food or beverages into an area where animals are being housed, they are at risk for becoming ill.”
According to the Department of Health and Human Services and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, enteric bacteria and parasites pose the highest risk for human disease from animals in public settings. Animals can shed the organisms intermittently, contaminating the environment. Some pathogens live for months or years. Infectious disease outbreaks have been caused by E. coli, Salmonella, Cryptosporidium, ringworm, and other pathogens. Another health risk includes allergies; they can be associated with animal dander, scales, fur, feathers, urine, and saliva.
Here are some tips to help prevent illness when visiting animal exhibits.
Wash Hands Often
- Always wash your hands right after petting animals or touching the animal enclosure.
- Always wash hands upon exiting animal areas even if you did not touch an animal, after going to the bathroom, before eating and drinking, before preparing food or drinks, and after removing soiled clothes or shoes.
- Running water and soap are best. Use hand sanitizers if running water and soap are not available. Be sure to wash your hands with soap and water as soon as a sink is available.
Eat and Drink Safely
- Keep food and drinks out of animal areas.
- Food should be prepared, served, and eaten only in areas where animals are not permitted (with the exception of service animals).
- Do not eat or drink raw (unpasteurized) products, including milk, cheeses, and cider or juices.
- Do not share your food with animals.
- Remember; wash your hands before preparing food or drinks and before eating and drinking.
Keep Children Safe Around Animals
- Children younger than 5-years-old need supervision in animal areas.
- Never allow children to put their hands or objects (for example: pacifiers) in their mouth while interacting with animals.
- Hand washing should be supervised.
- Do not take or use strollers, bottles, pacifiers, spill-proof cups, or toys in animal areas.
- Children younger than 5-years-old, elderly persons, and persons with weakened immune systems should use special precautions when around animal exhibits.
Rose Cantu adds, “Cleaning our hands is the single most effective way to prevent the spread of infections. Remember to clean your hands often and encourage your family and friends to do the same. Have a fun and healthy summer.”