Zena Edwards of The Olympian reminds us that direct contact with animals can carry a variety of pathogens that are capable of causing diseases in humans. Humans might become ill from contaminated food and water or from contact with animals or their environment. Persons touching animals or surfaces in the animal’s environment might contaminate their hands.
Fortunately, although the potential for illness from animal contact exists, much of the risk can be reduced by good hand washing. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention states that “hand washing is the single most important means of preventing the spread of infection.”
If hands are not washed thoroughly after contact with animals or their environs, the bacteria can infect these persons through hand-to-mouth contact.
In addition to washing hands after touching animals and before eating, the Washington State Department of Health has developed these recommendations for fair and petting- zoo visitors to help them stay healthy while having fun:
• Avoid touching your face or mouth before washing hands.
• Do not eat or drink while in the animal area.
• Toys and pacifiers should not be used in the animal area.
• Do not drink unpasteurized milk or milk products.
In addition, these hand washing habits are important for good health in general:
• Wet hands using running water (warm if available).
• Use soap and scrub for 20 seconds.
• Rinse with running water (again, warm if available).
• Dry with a paper towel.
• Use the towel to turn off the faucet and open the bathroom door.