May 26, 2024

It’s State and County Fairs Time; Stay Safe at Animal Exhibits

As summer winds down and fall approaches, state and county fairs are underway. The CDC is warning parents and caregivers about ways to protect yourself and your children against E. coli and other illnesses that have been linked to those events.

State and County Fairs

Animals exhibits and petting zoos at county and state fairs have been the source of E. coli outbreaks in the past few years. From 2010 to 2015, about 100 outbreaks of illness were linked to animals in public settings. These outbreaks have been caused by E. coli O157:H7, Cryptosporidium, and Salmonella bacteria.

Last year, eight people were sickened with E. coli infections after visiting the Mesa County Fair in Colorado Junction, Colorado. An E. coli outbreak in Minnesota in 2014 was linked to Zerebko Zoo Tran, a traveling petting zoo. At least 13 people were sickened in that outbreak, after visiting fairs in Rice, Polk, and Olmstead counties.

In October 2013, a child and six others were sickened with E. coli infections, after a visit to Dehn’s Pumpkins in Dayton, Minnesota. One child¬†developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). ¬†Attorney Fred Pritzker and his team of lawyers won $7.55 million for that child in a jury verdict in 2016.

Ruminant animals such as sheep, cows, and goats shown at state and county fairs can carry pathogenic bacteria in their guts even if they appear well cared-for and healthy. They shed the germs in their poop, which can contaminate their bedding, pens, their coats, and rails and gates. All it takes is one touch of a contaminated surface, and someone can get seriously ill.

So how do you protect yourself and your family if you choose to go to a petting zoo or visit the animal attractions at state and county fairs?

First, before you enter, make sure you are not carrying any food or drink. Pathogenic bacteria may aerosolize up to a few feet away from the animals. Then, make sure you find handwashing stations and make sure they are well serviced with soap and running water. Think about not taking a stroller or carriage into an animal exhibit; the wheels could pick up pathogens and transfer them to your car or home. Don’t take toys, bottles, pacifiers, or sippy cups into the exhibits.

Watch your children carefully during the visit. Don’t let them put their fingers or pacifiers, or other objects into their mouths while they are around the animals. Make sure they wash their hands thoroughly with soap and running water immediately after exhibiting the exhibit. Hand sanitizers are better than nothing, but soap and water is best.

You can have a safe and fun time at county and state fairs this summer and fall as long as you are careful. Stay alert. And if you or your children do get sick, especially with a diarrheal illness, after a visit to one of these venues, see your doctor immediately.


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