Petting zoos and animal exhibitions are a key attraction at many fairs, festivals, carnivals, and farm markets. Although they may appear generally harmless, they can carry disease-causing organisms – some of which cause diarrhea and other gastrointestinal symptoms in humans.
Generally, disease-causing organisms of concern are passed along from three sources — blood, saliva and manure. If you do come into contact with these vectors, control both the amount as well as the duration of the contact, and eliminate it from your clothes and body as soon as possible to minimize spreading it to others.
Bob King, PhD, of Cornell Cooperative Extension, recommends the following:
• Wash your hands with soap and running water for at least 20 seconds after touching an animal, especially before you eat.
• Do not use baby wipes in place of hand washing, as they do not kill germs such as E. Coli.
• Avoid hand-to-mouth activities in livestock areas, such as eating, smoking, nail biting, carrying toys, and pacifiers.
• Do not drink raw milk.
• High-risk individuals such as children less than 5 years old, elderly, pregnant and immune compromised should use heightened precautions.
• Only touch animals in petting areas. Always ask the owner or handler for permission to touch exhibited animals.
• Always wear clean clothes to animal exhibitions and wash your clothes when you get home to avoid further contamination. Pay particular attention to your shoes to make sure that they are clean.
• If you have recently been in an area suspected of animal disease, please wait at least five days before visiting and coming into contact with any other animals.