“Wash your hands”, though simple, could help keep E. coli from ruining your family’s next visit to the petting zoo, the Courier-Journal reports.

“It’s by far the best way to make sure that you’re going to be safe,” said Dr. Matt Zahn, the Louisville Metro Health Department’s medical director for communicable diseases. “Eat before or eat after (you interact with the animals), but don’t mix those two habits at all.”

“Wash your hands after you touch animals,” said Roy Burns, staff veterinarian at the Louisville Zoo. “That’s a good thing to do at home. It’s a good thing to do at the zoo, at work — whatever.”

E. coli 0157:H7 sickened more than 100 people who went through a petting zoo at last year’s North Carolina State Fair, as well as over 26 children in Florida this year. Some of them developed serious complications, such as hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which can lead to sudden kidney failure.
State officials in North Carolina announced new guidelines late last week that call for visitors to reach through fences to pet the animals, instead of mingling with them, and for people to wash their hands afterward.

“Bacteria can end up on animals’ hides and on different parts of the animal, so … when you pet the animal, there’s the possibility that there are going to be bacteria on the animal’s fur,” Zahn said. “The bacteria is so easily passed around from animal to animal to animal that trying to eradicate it from the animal population is just about impossible. And trying to find out which of the animals have it and which don’t is very difficult.”

High-risk individuals include children, who are prone to sticking their fingers in their mouths, a route for the bacteria. That’s why officials are focusing on personal hygiene.

“The venues try to do the best they can to decrease the possibility of (the public) being exposed to 0157, but we don’t know that that’s entirely possible, and so the recommendation is always going to be wash your hands well afterward,” Zahn said. “If you do, you should be fine.”