Tracy Wheeler, Beacon Journal medical writer, reports that recent federal study covering 1990 to 2000 blamed petting zoos and fairs in more than two dozen outbreaks of Escherichia coli O157:H7 which can cause severe diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and in about 2 percent to 7 percent of cases, life-threatening kidney complications.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has established recommendations for preventing the disease when people come in contact with animals:
• Supervise children closely at petting zoos and fairs, making sure to discourage hand-to-mouth contact.
• Do not take food or beverages, toys, pacifiers, baby bottles or sippy cups into the animal contact areas.
• Fairs and zoos should limit access to animal areas, with hand-washing stations at the gates and in food concession areas.
The CDC suggests that you scrub your hands vigorously with soap and water (preferably hot water) for at least 20 seconds. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are effective against many organisms, including E. coli, if soap and water are not available. However, hand sanitizers are not effective against bacterial spores, Cryptosporidium and some viruses. Hand sanitizers are also less effective when hands are visibly dirty.
“It’s not rocket science — if you wash your hands, you’re fine,” said David Barnhardt, the Akron Zoo’s marketing director. “It’s just a matter of getting them to do that. We certainly can’t force them, but we can strongly encourage them to do it. If it’s up to the kids, they’ll run on to the next thing.’‘
As I told the Journal:
Bill Marler of Marler-Clark says that state legislatures should pass laws requiring hand-washing stations, signs explaining the threat of E. coli and other pathogens and the risk to small children, sanitary walkways and railings, ventilation in buildings to reduce airborne contamination, and a ban of food sales near areas where there is contact with animals. Currently Pennsylvania is the only state to have such laws.