North Carolina state fair ecoliAs families begin flocking to petting zoos, fairs, and other animal venues this spring, a few people are coming down with serious illnesses. Some of the latest incidents occurred in Florida, where 60 people in 18 counties have confirmed or suspected cases of E. coli-related illness. The sources for the illnesses were petting zoos in three central Florida counties.
Many venues where people come in contact with animals can pose a risk, says the CDC, including county and state fairs, petting zoos, circuses, carnivals, zoos, farm tours, pet stores, animal swap meets, livestock-birthing exhibits, wildlife exhibits, and schools. Diseases other than those caused by certain types of E. coli may also pose a threat, including rabies, tuberculosis, salmonella, ringworm, cryptosporidiosis, and monkeypox.
In addition, physical injuries such as bites, scratches, stepped-on feet, or broken bones are of concern.
Affected animals often show no obvious signs of illness, and testing or antibiotic treatment of animals is of limited value, which makes it nearly impossible for visitors to see if an animal they are playing with is infected.
A list of about two dozen documented incidents in the past decade or so (in IL, MN, OH, NC, NY, OH, OR, PA, TX, WA, WI, the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Ontario, and a few overseas locations) has been assembled by Seattle law firm Marler Clark. Some of these incidents, which affected a total of more than 1,000 people, are highlighted in a CDC report.
Remedies that can sharply reduce problems are relatively simple, the CDC explains, including:
• hand washing after touching or visiting animals;
• designing, maintaining, and operating animal exhibits carefully to minimize exposures, including full separation of animal areas from any area where people eat or come in contact with human food;
• educating operators, staff, exhibitors, and visitors about risks and appropriate protective measures;
• paying strict attention to those at most risk, including children, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems; and
• properly cleaning animal areas, especially since harmful microbes have been proven to linger afterward for months.