It’s fair season in Michigan, with most fairs featuring petting zoos and animal exhibits that give children a thrilling face-to-face experience with animals.
However, it is important to remember that animals can carry germs harmful to humans. When people forget to wash their hands after petting an animal, or bring food or drinks into an area where animals are exhibited, they are at risk for becoming ill.
The novel influenza, or flu virus, can be spread from pigs or poultry when a person comes into contact with the droplets from an animal’s cough or sneeze, then touch their own nose or mouth.
Salmonella and E. coli germs can infect the stomach and intestines if a person touches animals or nearby surfaces that have been contaminated by feces (poop) and then eating or touching their face with their hands. //
To prevent illness when visiting animal exhibits, wash your hands often, and always right after petting animals or touching animal pens or fences, leaving animal areas, after using the restroom, before eating or drinking or making food or drink and when taking off soiled clothes and shoes.
Use hand sanitizers if running water and soap are not available, but wash your hands with soap and water as soon as a sink is available.
Keep food and drinks out of animal areas, do not share food with animals, do not eat or drink raw unpasteurized products including milk, cheese, cider or juices. Prepare, serve, and eat only where animals are not permitted, and always wash your hands before fixing food or drinks and before eating or drinking.
Always supervise children younger than five in animal areas and don’t allow them to put their thumbs, fingers or other objects in their mouth when they are interacting with animals, and supervise their hand washing. Don’t take strollers, bottles, pacifiers, spill-proof cups, or toys in animal areas.
Children under five years, the elderly, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems should use extra precautions at animal exhibits.
If one becomes ill with flu-like symptoms of fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, and/or tiredness, or gastrointestinal symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea, especially with a fever or bloody stools after visiting an animal exhibit, contact a doctor, and be sure to tell them about the recent contact with animals.
Most animal-related illnesses appear within a week after contact.