Kidding around with St. Louis goats- how to inform the public about petting zoo dangers

I find it physically impossible for me to get enough animal interaction. I suppose that means I must’ve chosen the right profession: Veterinary Medicine. I’m a frequent patron of Sunset Zoo here in Manhattan, Kansas, but during my last visit I was sad to learn that the petting zoo area was sectioned off from the public. Zoo patrons are still able to go up to the fence to pet the goats, but they can no longer walk amongst them in their enclosure. I have no idea if this change had to do with any of the recent petting zoo outbreaks, but I suppose it’s a step in the right direction for public health.

 I still love going to petting zoos, though they have quite a bad rap these days. The most memorable petting zoo outbreak that comes to mind is of the E. coli O157 outbreak at the Godstone Farm petting zoo that sickened 93.
The large number of sick kids resulted from a combination of poor food safety information and slow reporting by health officials. There are quite a lot of petting zoos that do things wrong, such as not providing access to handwashing stations after animal interaction. This past weekend I visited a petting zoo in St. Louis, and I was pleased to see some food safety signs posted outside the gate of the animal area and also by the handwashing station right next to the animals.
The petting zoo I visited was inside of, a historic plot of land within St. Louis formerly owned by Gen. Grant and currently operated by the Busch family. The petting zoo was entirely made up of goats, and for a few dollars patrons could purchase a baby bottle full of milk to feed to the goats. The handwashing stations with soap and water right next to the exits satisfied my public health concerns. However, I would’ve been happier with paper towels for drying rather than the hand dryers that were available.
I was also happy about the signs posted around the petting zoo that read,
In accordance with the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, we provide hand washing stations, antibacterial soap, warm water, and air hand dryers for visitors to our animal interaction areas. Additionally, petting brushes are available to reduce hand contact with the animals.
Posted below was,
Pregnant women, senior citizens and immunocompromised persons are at higher risk of serious infections. When contacting animals, Grant’s Farm suggests heightened precautions, and children under 5 years be closely supervised.
Of course these signs were nice to have around, but it doesn’t mean anything if parents don’t read them. Unfortunately I saw quite a few kids with their hands in their mouths inside the petting enclosure. I think Grant’s Farm did a good job of informing the public of the risks while still encouraging people to pet the animals. The petting brushes are a germ-a-phobe’s dream, though I didn’t use one.
All in all, the kids had a blast and the goats were fed. And now I have 52 pictures of goats on my camera.

Danish brewery workers strike over workplace drinking rights

Drinking on the job is generally not allowed, unless you work at a brewery.

Hundreds of Carlsberg workers in Copenhagen walked off their jobs last week to rebel against the company’s new alcohol policy, which allows them to drink beer only during lunch hours in the canteen. Previously, they could help themselves to beer throughout the day, from coolers placed around the work sites.

The only restriction was that you could not be drunk at work. Carlsberg’s trucks are equipped with alcohol ignition locks to combat drunk driving.

 The world’s fourth largest brewer, Carlsberg had been considering the restrictions for years. The new policy resulted in a strike of around 800 workers on Wednesday and continued into Thursday as around 250 walked off their jobs Thursday. On Friday afternoon, Michael Christiansen (truck driver turned union representative) sent his men back to work temporarily after management agreed to renegotiate workers’ right to free beer in coming weeks.

 Workday drinking used to be commonplace at breweries around the world. But the practice has faded amid concerns about workplace accidents, productivity losses and drunken driving. Carlsberg is one of the few big breweries where it’s still condoned.

  I wish that “lack of drinking at work” could be a problem for me. I’m not a smoker, but with beer I’d finally have a legitimate reason to take breaks during the day. Beer at lunch every day? Hooray beer!

KSU Alumnus presents ‘Efficient use of Earth’s resources: Providing food for the world’s people’

Dr. Dan Upson presented ‘Efficient Use of Earth’s Resources: Providing Food for the World’s People’ last night at the Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine. The presentation brought the production of food back to the basics of biology, from the basics of photosynthesis and fertilization of the soil to the formation of glucose to make energy. Dr. Upson explored the properties of energy sources like starch and cellulose, pointing out that ruminants are the only ones able to utilize the energy contained in cellulose. This emphasized the importance of the ruminant animal in our growing population and the need to continue research to improve beef production.

These topics highlighted the current state of the agriculture industry, which has come under attack in recent years for utilizing technology to improve production methods.
“There are those that want to take away the technology from the beef cattle industry, they are intelligent people but they are totally ignorant of the real world.”
Upson continued by showing the nutritional aspects of animal protein, containing all of the amino acids in proper quantities essential for maintenance and growth. The evening was sponsored by the KSU Student Chapter of the American Veterinary Medical Association (SCAVMA), the Beef Cattle Institute, and a new group on campus Food For Thought.
From their blog:
Food For Thought (FFT) is a group of Kansas State University undergraduate, graduate and veterinary students looking to bridge the gap between agriculture and consumers. FFT strives provide consumers with answers about where their food comes from by empowering agriculturalists, informing consumers, and confronting myths about modern agriculture.
Dr. Upson attended KSU as an undergrad, a veterinary student, and also as a doctoral student in physiology. He is also a 2004 KSU Alumni Medallion Award Winner and a respected member of the KState community.

Shortage of food animal veterinarians puts our food supply at risk

As a veterinary student at Kansas State University, I hear quite a bit about the growing demand for food animal veterinarians. With the increasing cost of tuition for vet school, it’s understanding that many of my colleagues are choosing to specialize in small animal medicine to help pay off school loans. But the looming threat of agroterrorism, emerging diseases and heightened food security shows an increased demand for food animal vets.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) reports, Only about 17 percent of veterinarians work in food supply, including practicing veterinarians and veterinarians working for governmental and corporate organizations. This is in contrast to the turn of the 19th century, when virtually every veterinarian was a food supply veterinarian. Moreover, research forecasts a shortfall of 4-5 percent per year in the ranks of food supply veterinarians.
Philip Lowe, from the Centre for Rural Economy at the University of Newcastle, has said the proportion of time vets in private practice spent treating animals used for food halved between 1998 and 2006 – due in part to the fact most vets run their own businesses, and pet owners have proved a more sustainable and lucrative source of income than farmers.
Professor Lowe argues in the journal Veterinary Record that due to this shift there has been a failure to make use of vets’ considerable and wide ranging expertise.
Various programs have been proposed to encourage vet students to enter food animal practice and help alleviate the problem of an enlarging veterinary student debt to salary ratio. Two programs that have been implemented are the Student Loan Repayment Program through the USDA and the National Veterinary Medical Service Act
These programs and future opportunities will help veterinary students join the nation’s food safety task force, and hopefully also increase our knowledge base and preparedness for foreign animal diseases within the United States. This is a critical time in the veterinary world, in which veterinarians must take full advantage of their skill sets to protect the nation’s food supply.
To read more about the food animal vet shortage, visit the AVMA’s Food Supply Veterinary Medicine media page.

Slimer in the Kitchen: Salmonella biofilm means more work when using disinfectants

Who you gonna call? GHOSTBUSTERS! Or – a professional cleaning company.

My favorite character from the Ghostbusters series is Slimer, mainly because he always seems to get away with causing chaos around him. As a kid, I didn’t think too much about his puke-green color or possible germs that he might be carrying. However, after reading an article from the Norwegian School of Veterinary Medicine about Salmonella biofilms, I’ve come to the conclusion that Slimer was probably a giant lump of Salmonella coated in a protective biofilm.  Bacteria have multiple forms of defense, and some bacteria are able to produce a biofilm, or a slimy outer covering, in order to protect itself from disinfectants and to ensure its survival in the environment.  Too bad the Ghostbusters guns didn’t have alcohol and Virkon in them, otherwise Slimer would be toast.
In her doctoral thesis, Lene Karine Vestby studied why it is so difficult to get rid of once they have managed to establish themselves in Norwegian feed and fish meal factories. She discovered that bacteria efficient at forming biofilm (bacteria coating) survived for longer in the factories than those that had a reduced ability to form this coating. The ability to survive in factories therefore appears to be connected with the ability to form a biofilm and it would seem that removing biofilm is a necessary step towards eradicating from the factories.
Vestby studied the effect of nine most frequently used disinfectants and found that their efficiency is substantially reduced of the Salmonella has managed to form a biofilm. The effect of the majority of the disinfectants was then no longer satisfactory, but a product containing 70% ethanol was the most efficient, followed by one called Virkon S. These results could improve the efficiency of the cleaning procedures used by processing plants in the animal feed industry, and also in the human food industry.
Of course it’s not just about finding the right tools, the tools must be properly used. Proper production methods should be in place to prevent the contamination of the feed. Processing and packaging facilities should follow a regular cleaning schedule with the appropriate disinfectants. These things all contribute to the culture of food safety. They should also keep Slimer out of the kitchen.

Wal-creatures in need of food safety information

The hottest word (in my opinion) of 2009: wal-creature. If you’re a late night Wal-Mart shopper like me (I’d rather avoid the daytime crowd), then there’s a pretty good chance that you’ve come across one. A wal-creature is anyone shopping at Wal-Mart wearing outlandish or ridiculous clothing, whether it be too tight or blindingly bright. A wal-creature could be Mimi from Drew Carey. Wal-creatures may be encountered in real life, but more often are photographed and put up on one of my favorite sites: The site has daily updates with pictures and captions of the craziest people spotted in Wal-Mart. 

First off, I’m pretty surprised that some of these people leave their house dressed as they are. Secondly, I can’t believe how many of these people have been photographed in the store with animals. There aren’t too many Wal-Marts around without a food section, so there’s a very good chance that these animals have accompanied their owners on that side of the store. includes photos of wal-creatures with monkeys (2 of them), raccoons, snakes, pigs, and even macaws.
In my opinion, the photo with the macaw is the most disturbing. The caption says it best: “Oh no Ms., it’s cool, I love stepping in parrot sh*t whenever I’m buying celery. Nothing says sanitary like a parrot in the produce section…” I cannot believe this lady got away with bringing a giant Salmonella factory into the produce section of a grocery store. I’m a big proponent of service dogs – dogs only. This bird’s rectum is pointed precariously close to the cases of strawberries. Unfortunately the manager at the store couldn’t have done anything about it (whether he was aware of the bird in the store or not). Laws are in place to protect disabled people with service animals from being asked to leave stores. Managers are not even allowed to ask what their disability is (which isn’t overly apparent in this situation) and disabled patrons are not required to show documentation for their service animals. I wish this could be regulated somehow because I have suspicions that the bird isn’t a real service animal, instead it’s just a pet.
Pets in grocery stores gross me out and tick me off. Wal-creatures just scare me.

34 years later, turtles are STILL not great children’s pets (or Christmas gifts)

This Christmas, consider giving a Barbie to a little girl or some sort of Pokémon a little boy. I’m not really a fan of either (anymore), but they probably won’t leave you infected with a zoonotic bacterium. One of the veterinary students at K-State sent out an email earlier this week telling us about her neighbors that rescued some turtle eggs from a construction site and were successful with having them hatch. It was also included in the email that they were red-eared sliders between 2.5-3 inches, and “just think a perfect free gift for a kid you know.”

My immediate thought was Salmonellosis,a bacterium naturally carried by turtles and intermittently shed. Turtle owners (especially kids) are at risk for developing the infection if they don’t practice proper hand-washing techniques or if the turtle’s area isn’t kept separate from the rest of the house. Back in the 70s, Salmonella infections were on the rise, and quite a bit of this has to do with the increasing popularity of pet turtles.

In 1975, The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) response to these Salmonellosis outbreaks was to ban commercial distribution of turtles less than 4 inches in length. In 1976, the Centers of Disease Control and Infectious Diseases (CDC) stated that the 1975 federal prohibition of the sale of small turtles in the United States had prevented an estimated 100,000 cases of turtle-associated Salmonellosis in children aged 1–9 years in 1976.  The law has restricted turtle-sellers to wait longer before they sell their baby turtles, and consequently the turtles cost more, which in turn tends to discourage impulse buyers.

I’m glad to see that laws are in place to (try to) protect children from reptile-associated Salmonellosis.  Unfortunately, it still remains an issue today. Children continue to acquire (and even die from) reptile-associated Salmonella. Sometimes the infections come from improper hand washing after handling a turtle, parents cross-contaminating, or the turtle is washed/kept in an area that the rest of the family uses frequently (bathroom sink).

I’ve contacted the vet student who sent me the original email, but she says she has spoken to one of the veterinarians associated with Kansas State who said that unless an individual has 3 or greater turtles there wasn’t a need for a license to give them away. I chatted with the vet myself, and he says that two limiting factors of owning a turtle are the long life span and meeting the complex dietary needs. We both agreed that turtles aren’t the best pet for a young child and that Salmonellosis was the primary zoonotic pathogen connected to turtles.

I guess these turtles will go to someone’s home regardless; here’s hoping there aren’t any young children or other immunocompromised individuals in the house and that the owners are hygienic in their turtle-habits.

Wild Boar population explodes in Germany: Plenty of bacon to go around

The New York Times reports “the wild boar is multiplying and less lovable.” I’m pretty sure the closest boars got to lovable was in the Lion King, and even then: not so lovable (and not a terrific singer either). Germany has its hands full with the wild boar population. Normally, the worst thing one of Germany’s wild boars will do is ruin a field of corn, which is one of their favorite foods. Lately, however, as their population has exploded scientists estimate that it increased by 320 percent in Germany in the last year alone — the pigs have been having more and more encounters with humans. Wild boars cause extensive damage to crops and property, but also have the potential be deadly to people that come upon them.  But if they don’t kill you immediately, they could be carrying bugs that will get you later.  Wild hogs are carriers of diseases such as anthrax, brucellosis, pseudorabies and tuberculosis.

If they don’t eat all of the crops while scavenging, they could be leaving behind E. coli in their feces, which was the likely situation in 2006 when contaminated spinach from California took three lives and made over 200 ill.  These buggers are so destructive that fencing off crops is useless; the pigs plow right through them.  I’d love to see if there’s any data out there correlating E.coli cases in Germany with the increasing populations of wild boars.

Currently an estimated 2 million to 2.5 million boars roam the forests, suburbs and maize fields of Germany. No national program seems to be set up to eradicate this problem, but local hunters do their best by enjoying a roasted leg of wild boar once in awhile.

Feeding birds on Thanksgiving

I enjoyed a nice thanksgiving with my family in Wichita this year. After an enjoyable Thanksgiving lunch, complete with turkey, potatoes, green been casserole, and all the holiday staples, we decided to walk off our turkey coma by visiting the park. My parents live close to Sedgwick County Park in Wichita, KS; we use the park a lot mainly to walk the dog, but they have great running trails and nice playgrounds for when my two younger cousins come over. 

I got a free bag of cat food from school and had planned on feeding the ducks and geese that live on the ponds located within the park. We loaded my two cousins up in the car and headed to the park for some bird-feeding on turkey day. The birds at the park are quite tame and will get very close if you offer them food. Naturally, they enjoyed the cat food thoroughly. I wasn’t content to just feed them; that became boring after awhile. I decided a fun challenge would be to try to pick up one of the birds. (I’ll admit I’ve done this before at parks). I’ve worked with poultry in undergrad, so I felt that if I could pick up a turkey and carry it, surely I could pick up a goose or duck. First I coaxed the birds to eat out of my hand, and then after slowly sneaking closer to them just grabbed them up like little footballs. 

The kids thought it was hilarious, but I don’t think my parents/uncle and aunt were all that excited. Mom looked at me and said, “Those birds are filthy, I thought you knew better not to touch them!” Yes, indeed the birds are probably very dirty. They could’ve been (and probably were) infected with all sorts of bacteria and protozoa. Doug probably wouldn’t like that.  The smartest thing to do would to keep the birds’ feet out of your mouth; luckily this was not a hard task. I was also very careful not to put my hands near my mouth or on my face to contaminate myself. Ideally I would’ve used hand sanitizer after holding the birds, but unfortunately I was not thinking far enough ahead. My idea of vacation is having a good time, and most of the time that takes place in a germ-free environment. But if animals are involved (except in the case of reptiles), I tend to be a little more lax in my “germaphobe-ness.”

Just because animals carry germs doesn’t mean that we need to completely steer clear of them. However, the age of the person handling the animal must be taken into consideration. Kids under the age of 7 (or maybe even12) don’t seem to get the idea to keep your hands out of your mouth around the dogs. The bottom line (for all your petting zoo-lovers) is to be smart and wash your hands before and after handling animals.


I got an H1N1 vaccine and a really cool sticker

I’m H1N1-ready. The vaccine that I received this evening will start providing immunity in a few weeks. I received one of a thousand doses available at the Riley County Health Department in Manhattan, KS.

The first wave of high-risk people received vaccinations a few weeks ago.  The high-risk category includes infants, pregnant women, the elderly and the immunocompromised. Tonight’s clinic offered the vaccine to people in the lower-risk category, including healthy people between the ages of 6 months and 24 years. I was excited to be able to receive a vaccine, but even better was that I didn’t pay anything – a college student’s dream.

As with most free things, the line was unbelievably long. Unfortunately I didn’t remember Doug’s advice to always carry my camera around, but the sight was pretty crazy with a long line snaking out of the building and police directing traffic. It made me wonder what the scene would look like if the virus being vaccinated against was more pathogenic or more virulent. Would the Riley County Police Department be able to handle the panicked Manhattan-ites? Would the health care staff manning the clinic be able to herd people through as efficiently?

After some Internet wandering I found the Kansas Department of Health’s Pandemic Flu Preparedness and Response Plan.  It looks like a decent plan, but I’m having a hard time imagining it working well after tonight’s mild chaos outside the clinic. Thankfully H1N1 is not as deadly as Ebola.  Perhaps the H1N1 scare is just a practice run for future bioterrorism?

For more information about where to get an H1N1 vaccination in Kansas you can visit the Kansas Department of Health and Environment H1N1 Flu Virus homepage.  For other locations throughout the US, or to learn more about the seasonal flu and H1N1, visit

I also got this awesome sticker to put on my computer at school: