LA Times writer Janet Cromley knows that people, especially children, love going to the zoo. But she cautions visitors to animal exhibits about the risk of E. coli infection.

Since October 2004, petting zoos in North Carolina, Florida and Arizona have been linked to outbreaks afflicting nearly 200 visitors, mostly children.

The main problem is that many visitors don’t think about the possibility of bacteria such as E. coli getting on their hands and then in their mouths either through touching or through handling food and drinks, both without washing hands properly.

The most basic precaution – hand washing – can prevent transmission of the bacteria.