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Fairs and petting zoos are in season: tips to avoid animal-spread illnesses

  • Written by Woodinville Weekly Staff

Millions of people go to agricultural fairs and petting zoos this time of year, and children of all ages love to be around the animals. Taking a few safety precautions can help reduce the chance of getting sick after spending time with animals or their surroundings.

“We encourage people to enjoy their local fairs and petting zoos,” said State Health Officer Dr. Kathy Lofy. “Just make sure your visit is a safe one. Washing your hands is the number one way to do just that.”

Handwashing is the most effective way to reduce chances of getting sick. The spread of illnesses from animals, such as those caused by E. coli and Salmonella, are commonly linked to hand-to-mouth contact. Young children and the elderly are more likely to experience serious illness. People with weakened immune systems, including pregnant women, are also at risk for serious illness. Yet anyone can get sick, so everyone should wash their hands with soap and water right after leaving the animal areas. Adults should supervise young children to make sure they don’t put their hands in their mouths and ensure that their hands are washed thoroughly.

A recent E. coli illness outbreak in Washington was linked to an educational agricultural event held in an animal barn. The outbreak sickened more than 50 people, mostly children, with 11 requiring hospitalization.

Even healthy animals can carry germs that make people sick. These germs can live for months in animal bedding, flooring, pens, soil, clothing, shoes and other things that they touch if the surfaces are not appropriately cleaned. An animal’s fur, skin and saliva can also carry germs that can then be passed to people.

To reduce your chances of illness, never eat or drink in animal areas. Leave items that can become contaminated, such as toys, strollers, bottles or pacifiers, outside of these areas.

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