Hand Washing Critical at
The West Virginia Department of Agriculture is issuing a warning regarding the dangers associated with animal exhibits and E. coli.
"With the threat of contracting a dangerous form of E. coli ever present, it is imperative that parents ensure that children immediately wash their hands after visiting animal exhibits, such as at petting zoos and fairs," said Commissioner of Agriculture Walt Helmick. "If there is no hand-washing station at the animal exhibit, children should not be allowed to touch the animals."
The pathogen in question, E. coli O157:H7, is a particularly dangerous strain to humans, according to Dr. Robert Pitts, Director of WVDA's Meat and Poultry Inspection Division.
"Various strains of E.coli are always present in the digestive tracts of many animals, but studies have shown that as few as ten cells of this particular strain can cause infection in humans," said Dr. Pitts. "Children are especially at risk because their immune systems have not fully developed, and exposure to this strain can result in irreversible kidney damage or death."
Studies have indicated that E. coli O157:H7 is found in only a small percentage of animals, and that those animals may or may not be shedding the pathogen in their manure at any particular time. There is no direct treatment for the disease in humans and no vaccine available to immunize animals against the disease.
What is known is that the disease is transmitted to humans through ingestion of fecal matter, which means good biosecurity practices can minimize the chance of anyone contracting this disease, or any other animal-borne disease.
"Animals will pick up fecal matter when they lay down and their immediate environment may also become contaminated. Therefore, any contact with the animal should be considered a possible contamination," said Dr. Pitts.
* Young children who suck thumbs, etc., should not be allowed to touch the animals.
* Waterless hand sanitizers are good, but nothing beats warm, soapy, running water.
* "Finger foods" are very popular at fairs and festivals. Hands should be washed immediately after petting the animals and again before eating anything as an extra layer of safety.
* E. coli can survive for extended periods outside the body. Shoes can be a source of infection if they come into contact with manure. Wash your hands after touching potentially contaminated shoes. Consider scrubbing and rinsing the soles with warm, soapy water.
The West Virginia Department of Agriculture protects plant,
animal and human health through a variety of scientific, regulatory
and consumer protection programs, as mandated by state law. The
Commissioner of Agriculture is one of six statewide elected officials
in West Virginia. Currently, Commissioner Gus R. Douglass is the
longest-serving agriculture commissioner in the nation. For more
information, visit www.wvagriculture.org.