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Common practices at petting zoos put visitors at risk

While petting zoos pose a risk for gastrointestinal illness, most visitors aren't aware that simple prevention measures could prevent infection. In addition, some engage in behaviors that might increase their risk of infection according to several studies being presented this week at the International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Researchers from the CDC today release the results of a case-control study of an outbreak of

E. coli O157:H7 associated with two Florida petting zoos, in which they interviewed visitors who did and did not get sick to identify which behaviors were predictors of infection. Some behaviors that were most strongly associated with illness were feeding a cow or goat, touching a goat and stepping in manure or having manure on your shoes. Not surprisingly, simple handwashing after visiting the petting zoo, including lathering with soap and washing hands before eating and after visiting the petting zoo, were found to protect against infection.

"There is an increasing incidence of reported outbreaks of illness associated with petting zoos over the years. People need to be aware of these risks and take the appropriate precautions such as washing their hands after visiting," says Fred Angulo of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Unfortunately, according to two other studies being presented at the meeting this week, many visitors do not even engage in this simplest of preventive measures. Researchers from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control conducted an observational survey of visitors to a petting zoo at the 2005 South Carolina state fair. Despite the availability of numerous handwashing facilities and posted warnings regarding risk factors, approximately 28% of people observed exiting the petting zoo did not wash their hands.

In a similar survey, researchers from the Tennessee Department of Health monitored the use of hand-sanitizer stations
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Source:American Society for Microbiology


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