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July 26, 2021

Visiting a petting zoo? Prevent animal-borne illnesses by taking precautions

Livestock and poultry are fun for kids to touch, but they can carry salmonella, E. coli and other diseases

Prevention Illness
Petting Zoo illness Source/American Veterinary Medical Association

Petting zoos are fun for children, but it's important to take precautions to prevent illnesses like salmonella and E. coli.

The summer months are the perfect time for family trips. For those with young children, they often include a petting zoo or two. 

Though children love the close encounters with the animals, parents should be aware that animals can carry germs that cause human illnesses, like salmonella, and take the necessary precautions. 

Zoonotic diseases are spread from animals to humans through the transmission of harmful germs like viruses, bacteria, parasites and fungi, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The most common zoonotic diseases in the U.S. include salmonella, E. coli and campylobacter, all of which can be contracted by touching animals. 

"It's always good to take precautions when you're in close proximity with animals because they and their environments can transfer germs that can make you or someone in your family ill," says Dr. Douglas Kratt, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

The most common way infection occurs is when people touches their mouth or nose after touching or feeding an animal. Even if animals look healthy, they might still be carrying germs. 

Symptoms of these types diseases usually include vomiting, fever, diarrhea and cramps. While most illnesses are mild, some are more severe, requiring a doctor's visit or hospitalization.

Children ages 5 and younger, people with a weakened immune system and adults over 65 are at highest risk.

To better protect your family this summer, follow these simple infectious disease prevention guidelines curated from Kraft, the CDC and the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association:

1. Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and hot water after spending time with animals even if you don't touch them directly. Supervise young children washing their hands to ensure they do it properly. Hand sanitizer also can work if soap and water are not available, but wash with soap and water as soon as possible.

2. Don't eat or drink inside petting zoos or in any areas that house animals.

3. Park strollers outside the petting zoo area so germs don't get on the wheels and go home with you.

4. Children age 5 and younger should never have contact with reptiles, amphibians and live poultry because they are most likely to make them ill.

5. Don't let children put their fingers or objects, including pacifiers, in their mouth while they are in animal exhibits. Don't let them sit or play on the ground either.

6. Though there is little evidence that COVID-19 can spread from animals to humans, there have been cases of it spreading from humans to pets. If you have COVID-19, avoid all contact with pets, livestock and wildlife.

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