When parents show their children animals, the first thought on a parent’s mind is usually safety. Since barnyard animals are usually harmless and are loved by young children, petting zoos are popular destinations for family outings in some areas. But, parents should consider the threat posed by animal-borne pathogens at petting zoos and other similar activities.
The danger posed by exposure to pathogens found in petting zoos was highlighted recently with the death of a two-year-old, who died after he and three other children contracted E. coli at a petting zoo near San Diego. Outbreaks like these occur fairly regularly, and now there are data that show why. A study conducted in Israel found that 12% of the animals at petting zoos had drug-resistant bacteria that could potentially infect humans. Most children contract diseases from farm animals that carry common strains of pathogens like E. coli, salmonella, and ringworm. Farm animals can carry pathogens which cause disease in humans without appearing or getting sick themselves. According to a legal expert on disease from petting zoos, outbreaks occur regularly and vary in their scope. In most cases, around a half dozen people get sick and most of the victims are small children–though, an outbreak of E. coli at a North Carolina fair in 2012 sickened over 100 people. It is difficult to know whether a petting zoo’s animals may pose a risk to your children, but there are ways of minimizing chances of infection when you have contact with farm animals.
Petting zoos are are great places for young children interested in animals to visit, but there is always the risk of getting sick. If parents still want to take their children to petting zoos, here are some helpful tips from the CDC on how to minimize risk of contracting a contagious disease from a petting zoo. Parents should supervise their children at petting zoos to make sure they have fun safely.
- Avoid taking children under 5 to petting zoos
- Do not eat, drink, or touch your face and mouth when interacting with animals
- Do not interact with animals if you have any open cuts or sores
- Wash hands thoroughly after interacting with animals
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