People planning visits to the countryside over the bank holiday weekend are being urged to take extra care to protect themselves and their children from a range of germs that that are common in environments where animals graze or roam free.
The Health Protection Agency (HPA) North West warns that every year several outbreaks and numerous sporadic cases of gastrointestinal illness are associated with visits to animal parks, petting farms or picnicking in environments that have been contaminated by animal faeces.
Dr. Ken Lamden, HPA North West’s regional lead for gastrointestinal disease, said: “The risk is low in the context of the millions of people who visit countryside attractions where there are animals and we certainly wouldn’t want to discourage these visits, but animals harbour germs and people should take simple but sensible measures to protect themselves and their children.
“Hand-washing with soap and water at the right time is the single most effective way of removing germs and avoiding infectious disease. It’s essential to always wash the hands thoroughly after contact with animals and environments that have may have been contaminated by animals, such as soil, river and pond water, fence posts, particularly on farms, country styles and gates.
“Babies and young children should be deterred from putting their fingers close to their mouths if they have been touching animals or handling soil or materials that may have been contaminated by animals.
“If hand-washing facilities are not immediately available, people should use alcohol-based hand wipes, but it should be remembered that wipes are not a substitute for hand washing. Hands may become badly soiled and should be thoroughly washed before handling food or eating or putting the fingers close to the face.”
Animals, birds and poultry are natural harbours of salmonella, campylobacter, giardia, cryptosporidium (a parasite commonly found in watercourses where animals drink) and E.coli O157, an infection that can be particularly serious for young children and on rare occasions can cause death.
Dr. Lamden reiterated: “Although the risk cannot be entirely eliminated, good hygiene significantly reduces the chances of infection occurring. It is therefore important for parents and children to make full use of the washing facilities that are provided at rural attractions.”
The HPA advice is:
- Check the hygiene facilities at petting farms and animal parks – there should be good hand-washing facilities with hot water, soap and paper towels.
- Always wash hands carefully after touching the animals and other farm objects, including fence railings and gates, and especially before eating or drinking.
- Do not eat or drink or put your fingers in your mouth while you are near animals or before you have washed your hands.
- If possible to do so, thoroughly clean Wellingtons and pushchair wheels before leaving the farm.