Will petting zoos return to fair?

“They can’t do this. E. coli and Hepatitis are a county fair tradition.”

So said one commenter in response to suggestions from a review panel that  the Cleveland County Fair in North Carolina may not include a petting zoo when it returns this fall.

But a team that spent six months studying health safety at the fair does not recommend petting zoos be banned from the fairgrounds following a 2012 E. amy_s_lamb_aug_12(1)coli outbreak that sickened 100-plus event patrons and led to a toddler’s death.

Instead they recommended motion-sensor hand-wash equipment, an increase in signs denoting petting zoo entrances and exits and hand-wash stations, restricting the number of patrons in a fair animal exhibit at any one time, clearer separation between food vendors and petting zoos and more health and safety education for fair employees.

Handwashing is never enough, and these measures are a stopgap.

Several petting zoo outbreaks have had nothing to do with handwashing; pathogens can be present in the environment – which little kids have a unique ability to interact with that enviroinment like eating poop or kissing metal pens –

 “This doesn’t eliminate petting zoos,” said Calvin Hastings, manager of the Cleveland County Fairgrounds. “I do foresee future petting zoos, just maybe not this year.”

State and local health officials said physical changes will help but it will take the community’s effort to ensure the fair is a safe event.

We have additional suggestions, but they’re under peer review at the moment.

A table of petting zoo outbreaks is available at http://bites.ksu.edu/petting-zoos-outbreaks.

A list of risk factors at petting zoos and animal contact events at fairs can be sorenne.kangeroo.zoo.jul.11found in:

Erdozain G, Kukanich K, Chapman B, Powell D. 2012. Observation of public health risk behaviours, risk communication and hand hygiene at Kansas and Missouri petting zoos – 2010-2011. Zoonoses Public Health. 2012 Jul 30. doi: 10.1111/j.1863-2378.2012.01531.x. [Epub ahead of print]