Promote handwashing at petting zoos and farms or no school visits

In the fall of 1998, I accompanied one of my five daughters on a kindergarten trip to the farm. After petting the animals and touring the crops — I questioned the fresh manure on the strawberries –we were assured that all the food produced was natural. We then returned for unpasteurized apple cider.

The host served the cider in a coffee urn, heated, so my concern about it being unpasteurized was abated. I asked: "Did you serve the cider heated because you heard about other outbreaks and were concerned about liability?" She responded, "No. The stuff starts to smell when it’s a few weeks old and heating removes the smell."??

I’m all for farm visits, local markets, petting zoos, but I want the operators to have a clue about the dangerous bugs that make people – especially little kids – sick.

What I haven’t written about before is that I called the local board of education after the farm visit and insisted the specific farm be removed from future school visits because it was obvious the operators were clueless about the dangerous microorganisms that can sicken kids.

And it happens a lot.

The U.K. Health Protection Agency reported today in Emerging Infectious Disease that it recorded 55 outbreaks of gastrointestinal diseases, such as E.coli and cryptosporidium between 1992 and 2009.

Lead author Dr Fraser Gormley, a HPA epidemiologist, said,

"Handwashing is the single most important prevention step in reducing transmission of gastrointestinal infections after handling animals and it’s crucial that handwashing in young children should be supervised, especially after touching or petting animals or their surroundings on a visit to a farm."

Those ‘Visitors Must Wash Hands’ signs are not enough. Operators need to take this seriously. So do education officials who send kids to substandard farms. If farms and petting zoos want to make money off school visits, they should actively promote handwashing and microbial awareness; if not, no school visits.

The report is available here.

UK petting zoo E. coli O157 outbreak: 36 confirmed sick; 12 in hospital all under age of 10; four in serious condition; this won’t turn out well

It’s like people in the U.K. had never heard of E. coli O157. Despite outbreak after outbreak – often involving children at nurseries — public inquiries and a single food safety agency, the Brits just seem oblivious when it comes to dangerous pathogens that send kids to the hospital.

This morning, the
London Times reported that

“Thousands of children across the South of England may be at risk from the E. coli bug in what looks to be the largest UK outbreak linked to transmission from farm animals."

Godstone Farm in Surrey, a popular family attraction where children are encouraged to stroke and touch animals, is closed while the Health Protection Agency (HPA) conducts tests to find out the cause of the outbreak which has left 12 children in hospital, four of them in a serious condition.

About 1,000 children, mainly from South London, Surrey, Kent and Sussex, visit the farm every day during the school holidays and at weekends. It is feared that 30,000 children could be at risk of infection.

It has emerged health officials knew about the outbreak among people who visited the farm days before it was closed to the public.

The Health Protection Agency became aware of the outbreak in late August after cases were traced to the farm.

One parent has expressed her anger, saying the decision for the farm to remain open was an "absolute disgrace".

But farm manager Richard Oatway said the farm had acted responsibly and was co-operating with the investigation.

Richard, please share with us your knowledge of natural reservoirs of E. coli O157, and the steps you’ve taken to control such dangerous pathogens from infecting children who visit your farm. Handwashing isn’t enough.

UK family farm closes after 8 get E. coli O157

Another reminder to play safe on the farm.

An open farm in West Lancashire has been temporarily closed after eight people, including three children, were struck down with E.coli O157.

One of the children affected is currently in hospital and is described as ‘poorly but stable’.

The eight people are from two families that both recently visited Windmill Animal Farm, on Red Cat Lane, in Burscough.

The farm is being considered as one possible source of the infection and the farmer is co-operating fully with the investigations.

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.