Avoiding Infection on Farm Visits

The Public Health Team has produced a factsheet – Avoiding Infection on Farm Visits - as a reminder to practice good hand hygiene when visiting farm attractions.

Between January and May 2013 there were 12 outbreaks of cryptosporidiosis associated with petting farms across England affecting around 130 people.  Over the past 20 years, an average of around 80 cases* of Cryptosporidium infection linked to visits to petting farms have been reported to PHE each year.  This is out of a total of around 2 million visits to the 1,000 plus farm attractions in the UK, with peak visitor times during school and public holidays

Cryptosporidium is only one of a number of bugs that can be picked up during a visit to a petting farm.  Other common infections are caused by E. coli O157 and Salmonella.  Cases of E. coli O157 linked to farm attractions are at their highest levels between June and October.

All of these bacteria live in the gut of the animals so people can get infected within the farm setting mainly in two ways – either by touching animals in the petting and feeding areas or by coming into contact with animal droppings on contaminated surfaces around the farm.  These harmful bacteria can get accidentally passed to your mouth by putting hands on faces or fingers in mouths before washing them thoroughly.  It only takes a small number of the bacteria to cause infection.

These outbreaks of illness serve as a reminder for anyone visiting a petting farm of the need to wash their hands thoroughly using liquid soap and warm running water, and drying with disposable paper towels after they have handled animals or been in their surroundings - particularly before eating.  Although we can avoid obvious dirt there will be millions of invisible bacteria spread all around the farm which can get onto our hands.

Ahead of the seasonal rise in cases of E. coli O157 linked to petting farms we want to remind people not to rely on handrubs and wipes for protection because these are not suitable against the sort of germs found on farms.  Children should also be closely supervised to ensure they wash their hands properly, as they are more at risk of serious illness.

By being aware and by doing these simple things we can help to avoid illness and enjoy a fun day out.

The factsheet contains key messages with links to further guidance/information and is available at www.northyorks.gov.uk/article/28297/Public-health-factsheets.

*Data from review of 55 outbreaks of intestinal disease at petting farms between 1992 and 2009. Gormley et al (2011). Transmission of Cryptosporidium spp. at petting farms, England and Wales. Emerging Infectious Diseases

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