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 STOKE-ON-TRENT, NEWCASTLE-UNDER-LYME, STAFFORDSHIRE MOORLANDS, SOUTH CHESHIRE

Health experts warn West Midlands families – don’t let bugs ruin your day out on the farm



Two families whose children fell ill after farmyard days out are warning others to follow health advice carefully and be aware of how easily infections spread while enjoying countryside days out.

Learning about farmyard life and seeing animals close-up make for a great trip out for all the family. But bugs such as cryptosporidium and STEC (Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli), which can cause severe stomach infections, are widespread in settings with lots of animals present. Ahead of the upcoming Bank Holiday, half term and Open Farm Sunday (9 June), public health experts at the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) are reminding visitors of how important it is to be very careful about hand hygiene during and after farm visits.

Megan Tarbard, and her two-and-a-half-year-old son Ted, both fell ill with cryptosporidiosis following a recent farm visit. Megan, like many others, visited a farm during lambing season, when Cryptosporidium is commonly circulating in the environment. Though Megan and Ted washed their hands during their visit they came into contact with animals and picked up the bug.

Megan said: “I don’t think people appreciate just how ill these infections can make you – this is not like a 24-hour stomach bug that most people experience. I and my son felt awful and were seriously unwell for days. I had to take two weeks off work and my son had to stay away from nursery for the same period. I am very hygiene conscious at home so managed to prevent spreading the bug to my partner.

“Like most people I thought I had taken all necessary precautions by washing my hands, however, after petting and holding some of the lambs I realised keeping the dirt and germs at bay was not that easy. We continued to wash our hands but after returning home a few days later we both fell ill.”

Amy Chappell and four members of her family became unwell after a farm visit, with her 11-year-old daughter Poppy needing hospital care.

Amy said: “This has had a huge impact on the whole family, we had no idea how serious this bug could be. A few days after our visit, my six-year-old daughter Edie was sent home from school and then started being sick and had diarrhoea. The following day I got home from work and felt washed out. I was only sick twice but had diarrhoea for 10 days. My  11-year-old daughter Poppy was next to feel unwell and started complaining of a bad stomach.”

Amy, her three daughters and her father, all tested positive for cryptosporidiosis, but it was Poppy who suffered the worst effects.

Amy added: “She was constantly being sick every few minutes and this went on for days. After seeing the out of hours GP I took her to A&E and she was admitted straight away and put on a drip as she’d lost so much fluid and was given anti-sickness drugs regularly. She was so drained and withdrawn she couldn’t even get out of bed for the toilet, it was really worrying for all of us.”

After four days in hospital, Poppy had another week off school to build up her strength, however, is still not back to her healthy self and remains under the care of her GP.

Paul Fisher, Health Protection Consultant leading on environmental issues for UKHSA West Midlands, said: “Thousands of people in the West Midlands region go to animal attractions each year. Visiting a farm is a fun day out, which is enjoyable and educational, particularly for children. However, animals can be the source of several bugs that can be passed to humans and cause illness, with some infections particularly serious for children or pregnant women. Sadly, this year we have already seen a significant number of cases of nasty stomach bugs linked to farm visits right across the country, including in some instances, children being hospitalised.

“Infections can be picked up from the animal’s body, its poo or from areas where animals have recently been. If the germs are on your hands, you could accidentally pass them to your mouth. Muck on boots, clothing and pushchairs can easily be transferred to hands and other surfaces. You can’t see the germs, so your hands may appear clean. Even if you’ve not been touching the animals themselves, you may have touched fences or other surfaces in areas with animals or sat on and touched grass that is contaminated.

“Washing your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water immediately after you’ve had contact with animals and before eating or drinking will reduce the risk of infection. Don’t use gels or wipes instead of soap and water, as these are not a substitute for washing your hands and do not remove bugs in dirt. Farms provide hand washing facilities, so we encourage people to make use of these to ensure the only things you take away from your visit are happy memories.”

Every year millions of people visit premises where members of the public enjoy viewing or touching animals, whether at farm attractions, agricultural shows or organised visits. Last year 257 farms hosted Open Farm Sunday events and welcomed over 170,000 visitors to their sites. To make sure such days out stay happy memories, UKHSA is urging families to remember the importance of thoroughly washing hands after touching animals, pens, fencing, and other surfaces where animals may have touched; and before eating food to avoid getting bugs, which can make you seriously ill.

Animals can carry the bugs without appearing ill themselves and you can catch them by direct contact with an animal or with surfaces they have touched. Washing hands with soap and water is also important as hand gels and wipes do not remove all gastrointestinal bugs.

While visiting a farm, it is really important to wash hands carefully before you eat and after removing boots and cleaning buggy wheels. Children, particularly, need careful supervision not to put their fingers in their mouths while on a visit to a farm. It is also a good idea to change clothes worn to a farm when you arrive home and wash what you were wearing at 40 degrees, which will kill any bugs.

Specialists from the UKHSA are working closely with local authorities, the Health & Safety Executive and farming organisations to increase awareness ahead of the busiest summer period.

Annabel Shackleton, from LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming), organisers of Open Farm Sunday and the secretariat and partner of industry collective Access to Farms, which is responsible for writing the industry code of practice, said: “Each year millions of people visit farms, agricultural shows and events with animals, and have a wonderful time, which is why we are so saddened to hear of people falling unwell following recent farm visits.

“Visiting a farm or a show is not only a fantastic sensory experience, it’s great for our wellbeing and so educational too. We want people to continue to visit farms and agricultural events safely, so, we are reminding everyone across our networks of the Industry Code of Practice guidance for farm visits and ensuing the public are advised to take time to wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water, after touching animals, pens, fencing, and other surfaces where animals may have touched. Adults should always supervise children to ensure that they wash their hands properly and grow up learning that clean hands are essential before eating. Well run events with animals managed in accordance with the Industry Code of Practice guidelines, are positive and safe experiences that are vitally important for the public and the farming community to build trust and understanding related to food production, the natural environment and the rural economy.”

What to do when visiting a farm

Following the simple rules listed below will help to keep you and your children safe from infections that may be found on open farms. Pregnant women need to take particular care as infections acquired from animals can be harmful to them and their unborn baby.

•         Do wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after you have touched animals, fences or other surfaces in animal areas. All open farms provide handwashing facilities for visitors.

·        Do wash hands thoroughly with soap and water before eating or drinking

·        Do remove and clean boots or shoes that might have become soiled and clean pushchair wheels – then wash hands thoroughly with soap and water

·        Do supervise children closely to ensure that they wash their hands thoroughly – washing your hands should take about 20 seconds – the same time that it takes to recite a single verse of “Old Macdonald Had A Farm”

·        Do eat and drink in picnic areas or cafes only

·        Do not put hands on faces or fingers in mouths while petting animals or walking round the farm

·        Do not kiss farm animals or allow children to put their faces close to animals

·        Do not eat or drink while touching animals or walking round the farm – 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 bugs in dirt

·        If you are planning a school or group visit to a farm, you also need to make sure that you’ve considered all the risks and taken steps to manage them – guidance is available to help schools and teachers do this


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