Handwashing is never enough: Rise in infections tied to animal encounters in Kentucky

Northern Kentucky health officials are urging residents to wash their hands if they encounter animals at county fairs after seeing a surge in intestinal infections in the region.

goat.petting.zooThe Northern Kentucky Health Department has received reports of E. coli, campylobacteriosis and Salmonella in local residents in recent weeks.

Of the three illnesses, the Ccmpylobacteriosis infection, causing diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea and fever, is the most prevalent. Thirty-five cases have been reported from January through the third week of July this year. That compares with 18 cases in the first seven months of 2014, health department records show.

Seven salmonella cases have been reported to the health department in both the first and second quarters of 2015, and fewer than five E. coli cases were reported in each quarter, according to health department records. The department is not seeing increases in the two illnesses but is advising hand-washing to prevent all three diseases, because it’s the best way to prevent getting sick.

Many of the recent cases in the region are still under investigation, said Kelly Giesbrecht, a regional epidemiologist for the health department. “However, animal exposure seems to be common” so far among those who’ve contracted the illnesses.

About half of those with the illnesses are children, she said.

Health officials have seen the diseases associated with several types of animals, Giesbrecht said. Among them: cows, calves, goats, reptiles, chickens, ducks and puppies.

“Areas around the animals can become contaminated as well, so it’s important to keep those as clean as possible, and wash hands if coming into contact with surfaces,” Giesbrecht said