UK schoolkids sickened after farm visit; ‘an absolutely fantastic visit’ says teacher

Cumbrian health chiefs have issued urgent advice about farm visits after confirming that four children were stricken by cryptosporidium, carried by cattle and lambs, and were investigating an unspecified number of other possible cases.

The infections came after a number of recent farm visits, health officials say.

Pauline Little, an assistant head at the school, which sent 59 children on the visit, said,

“It was an absolutely fantastic visit. The farm was immaculate. Children were given the chance to milk a cow and stroke baby goats. They were given hand gel to clean their hands afterwards. And when we got back to school, we did more about washing hands than we would normally.”

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) North West yesterday advised parents and children how best to reduce the risk of infection during and following farm visits.

* Parents and teachers should check the hygiene facilities at the farm to ensure there are good hand-washing facilities with hot water, soap and paper towels.

* Children and their supervisors should always wash hands carefully after touching animals and other farm objects, especially before eating or drinking.

*Children must not eat or drink or put their fingers in their mouths whilst close to animals and before washing their hands.

Prof. Hugh Pennington of the U.K. has gone so far as to say that children under five (who are more vulnerable because of their still-developing immune systems) should be banned from visiting livestock farms because of the serious risk of acquiring E. coli O157:H7 infection from farm animals. Such a ban already exists in Sweden.

There is much to learn from interacting with animals, farms, and the world
. The challenge is to do so in a microbiologically safe manner.