RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—That nasty stomach bug you suspect invaded your gut after downing tainted funnel cake at the county fair may have actually come from an animal on display. While there are many benefits of animal-to-human contact, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also wants people to take precautions to avoid zoonotic diseases, i.e. infections that are passed from animals to us.
THE DETAILS: The CDC reports that in the last 10 years, places where people have close contact with animals have sparked infectious disease outbreaks caused by E. coli, salmonella, cryptosporidium, ringworm, and other pathogens. These types of places include: county or state fairs, petting zoos, animal swap meets, pet stores, zoos, circuses, carnivals, educational farms, livestock birthing exhibits, and wildlife exhibits that feature photo opportunities. Intestinal infections caused by bacteria and parasites pose the biggest risk for humans; people are most often infected after putting a germy hand in their mouth after touching an animal’s fur, hair, or skin, or after letting an animal eat from or lick their hand.
Animals, although they may appear healthy, are often under a lot of stress in these situations because of being transported and handled by so many people. This excess stress causes them to shed more pathogens. Some other things to consider:
• Germs carried by the animals can live for months in the environment; one study found E. coli associated with an outbreak persisted in animal bedding for 10 days after a fair, and for 5 months in the soil.
• Cattle, sheep, and goats commonly carry these organisms, but poultry, rodents, reptiles, and other wild and domestic animals can be carriers, too.
• Young animals are most likely to be infected and to shed these pathogens.