State Issues Recommendations for Petting Zoo, Fair and Farm Visitors

Simple, Common Sense Approach Will Reduce Health Risk

Albany, June 28, 2001 – State Health Commissioner Antonia C. Novello, M.D., M.P.H., Dr.P.H. and State Agriculture and Markets Commissioner Nathan Rudgers today issued advice to help New Yorkers safely interact with animals at petting zoos, fairs and during farm visits this summer.

Although one–on–one contact with farm animals serves as a rewarding and educational experience, precautions should be taken to reduce health risks such as E. coli O157:H7 and rabies that are sometimes associated with direct animal contact.

"With modern laboratory techniques such as those available at our Wadsworth Center laboratories, we are increasing our capacity to identify illnesses in children from direct animal contact," Dr. Novello said. "Fortunately, we know of no cases that have occurred in New York State; however, children do love to touch animals; they often don't wash their hands after animal contact, and they frequently put their hands in their mouths. Rather than discourage children from enjoying traditional family activities such as visits to fairs and petting zoos, we want to help them do so safely."

Based on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the State is advising the availability of handwashing facilities at animal exhibits, discouraging hand–to–mouth activities, redesigning animal exhibits and taking heightened precautions for persons at higher risk of illness, such as young children and the elderly. Dr. Novello is contacting all local health departments and federally licensed animal exhibitors in the State to help minimize the potential for infection from animals at petting zoos and fairs, and to reassure New Yorkers that such venues are safe.

Commissioner Rudgers said, "County fairs, petting zoos and farm visits are all activities that enable us to not only showcase our industry, but allow children and adults to get a little closer to their agricultural roots by petting animals and visiting farm life. I encourage everyone to follow these reasonable and straightforward guidelines that will help families fully and safely enjoy New York agriculture."

The CDC recently published a report of 56 illnesses and 19 hospitalizations in the states of Pennsylvania and Washington due to E. coli O157:H7, associated with school and family visits to farms where children came into contact with livestock. To reduce the risk of infection in New York State, visitors to petting zoos, fairs and similar settings should take simple steps such as washing their hands after touching animals or spending time in areas where animals are housed or exhibited. When possible, information should be provided before visits. The following recommendations will help to minimize potential illness:

  • Handwashing is the single most effective way to minimize the chance of acquiring an intestinal infection such as E. coli O157:H7. Within and next to areas of animal contact, running water, soap and disposable towels should be available.
  • In areas without running water, hand sanitizer gel packs may be used, although their efficacy has not been determined for these settings. Baby wipes are not an accepted sanitizing agent.
  • Handwashing is recommended not only for those having contact with the animals, but also for those in the area of or having contact with any part of the animal interaction area (such as walls, cages, bedding, glass partitions, etc.).
  • Hand–mouth activities such as eating, drinking, smoking and carrying toys and pacifiers should not be permitted in areas of animal contact.
  • Visitors should be made aware that certain farm animals pose greater risk for transmitting intestinal infections to humans than others. Such animals include calves, lambs and other young ruminants, young poultry, and ill animals.
  • Animal contact is not appropriate at food service establishments and infant care settings.
  • Effective separation methods should be used to prevent contact with animals other than in the interaction area.
  • Persons at high risk such as children less than five years of age, the elderly, pregnant women and immunocompromised persons should be especially careful to follow these recommendations.
  • Young children should be supervised by adults to ensure that they follow these recommendations when having contact with animals.

Rabid animal contact has also been a concern in New York State at fairs and petting zoos in recent years. In 1996, approximately 400 persons underwent treatment to prevent rabies after petting a rabid goat at a local fair. To help prevent similar incidents from happening again, please abide by the following guidelines:

  • All animals in contact areas should be vaccinated against rabies. Those animals that are not old enough to be vaccinated should not be included in the exhibit area.
  • Any adverse animal contact, such as bites and scratches from animals must be reported immediately to the local health department or the exhibit superintendent.
  • Any ill animals in the animal contact areas, particularly those with diarrhea or signs of encephalitis (stumbling, incoordination, paralysis) should be reported to the local health department and the exhibit superintendent.

6/28/01–74 OPA