With children finishing school for the Easter holidays, outdoor attractions including petting farms and zoos will be welcoming many families through their doors this spring – so the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) West Midlands is urging people to take care and practice correct hand hygiene to avoid nasty stomach bugs.
Many animals can carry parasites and germs that can affect young children and pregnant women, such as E. coli O157 or Cryptosporidium, and evidence shows cases often peak in the spring – partly due to children handling animals and feeding lambs at petting farms.
Dr Roger Gajraj, UKHSA West Midlands Consultant in Communicable Disease Control leading on gastro-intestinal infections, said: “Thousands of people in the West Midlands region visit farm attractions each year, and while the number of people who become ill is proportionally quite small, many cases of illness could be avoided by practicing the correct hand hygiene. “Hands should be washed thoroughly with soap and warm water after contact with animals and especially before consuming food and drinks. Hand gels or wipes are not a substitute for washing your hands. “It’s important to remember that even if you’ve not been touching the animals themselves, you may have been touching fences or other surfaces in areas with animals, or sitting on and touching grass that is contaminated in country parks or farmland, so wash hands thoroughly to avoid illness and enjoy a fun day out.” If you or anyone in your group is sick or has diarrhoea within two weeks of visiting a farm, please contact your GP or NHS111 as soon as possible. General advice to farm and zoo visitors • even if animals look clean and healthy, they can carry a number of infections that may be harmful to people, especially children and pregnant women • cases of gastro-intestinal infections associated with animals generally increase during spring and lambing season, and also summer when people are on holiday • if planning a group visit to a farm or zoo, make sure you’ve considered all the risks and provided the right advice before the visit Things you should do when visiting an attraction with animals • read and listen to the advice provided by the visitor attraction • wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after touching animals, fences or other surfaces in animal areas • wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before eating or drinking • remove and clean boots or shoes that have become soiled, clean pushchair wheels, then wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water • supervise children closely to ensure they wash hands properly • eat and drink in picnic areas or cafés only Things you should not do when visiting an attraction with animals • do not put hands on faces or fingers in mouths while petting animals or walking around the farm or zoo • do not allow children to put their faces close to farm animals or kiss the animals • do not eat or drink while touching animals or walking around the farm or zoo – this includes not eating sweets, crisps or chewing gum • do not eat anything that has fallen on the floor • do not use gels or wipes instead of washing hands with soap and water – gels and wipes do not remove the germs found on farms