Are petting zoos safe for kids?

Last week, an E.coli outbreak involving at least 17 kids and 3 adults was linked to a Denver cattle show.

In light of that, a reporter for the San Antonio Express-News spent a day at the petting zoo at the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo asking parents if they were worried about the "germs" their kids were being exposed to.

Some said yes; many others were confident in the precautions they were taking.

The stepfather of a three-year-old wasn’t worried. "We wash his hands," he said.

One mother said of her thumb-sucking two-year-old,

“I can’t keep her in a bubble. [But] it’s definitely something I think about every day with her.”

One of the largest petting zoo outbreaks of E.coli O157:H7 to date was linked to the North Carolina State Fair in 2004. A study of the outbreak by Goode and colleagues found,

Persons became infected after contact with manure and engaging in hand-to-mouth behaviors in a petting zoo having substantial E coli O157:H7 contamination.

Use of alcohol-based hand-sanitizing gels was not protective [against infection with E.coli O157:H7], although knowledge of the risk for zoonotic infection was protective.

Are petting zoos safe for kids? Maybe, if you’re aware of the risks and make sure they don’t eat any poop. But that might be easier said than done.

In the San Antonio article, Bill Marler was quoted as saying the threat of exposure to new and dangerous pathogens was too high for him to risk taking a small child or anyone with a compromised immune system to a petting zoo.

It’s your call.