The Herald-Leader reports that outbreaks of E. coli infection, from handling petting zoo animals at festivals and fairs around the nation, has prompted Lexington Lions Club Bluegrass Fair organizers to skip its popular live farm animal display and petting zoo.
Last winter, more than 26 people were infected with E. coli after handling petting zoo animals at three Central Florida fairs. The illnesses were traced back to animals from a traveling petting zoo. The North Carolina State Fair last fall also had a petting-zoo-related outbreak – 112 people were sickened with diarrhea and 15 of them developed a life-threatening complication of E. coli infection that causes kidneys to shut down.
Though they have had a petting zoo in the past, the Kentucky State Fair will also not be having one this year.
“Animals wallow around in feces,” said Christine Atkinson, an environmental health supervisor at the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department. “Then kids touch the animals, kids stick their fingers in their mouths — and the fun begins.” Contact with animals is a rarer cause of E. coli infection — such illness is more often caused by fecal contamination of undercooked ground beef or by ingesting human feces, resulting from a lack of handwashing after using the bathroom.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is advising animal exhibit operators to provide sinks with running water, soap, towels, and signs and staff directing people to wash their hands. Waterless hand sanitizer products are not preferable to handwashing, but is probably better than nothing. They also said that food, beverages, smoking, pacifiers, baby bottles and sippy cups should not be allowed near an animal exhibit.
More than 25 outbreaks have been linked to animal exhibits between 1990 and 2000 nationwide.