Enjoy the fair and farm, but be safe

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MANHATTAN, Kan. – Kids and animals – they’re a natural combination, especially when warm summer days bring them together at the zoo or the fair.

But Kansas State University scientists want to remind people to take basic health precautions as part of the day.

“It’s great to visit petting zoos or Uncle Bill’s farm, but it’s also important to remember that any animal we handle may carry infectious disease,” said Karen Penner, professor and food safety specialist with Kansas State Research and Extension.

Wash up. Children and adults alike should wash their hands with soap and water and dry them thoroughly after being around animals of any kind, Penner said.

It’s especially important to wash hands before eating. Even if the animals weren’t touched directly, bacteria can live on other surfaces – fences, gates and walls – for long periods of time, said Larry Hollis, extension beef veterinarian.

He cited a case in Oregon last summer, where 82 people became sick after visiting the fair’s sheep and goat exhibit. What ensued was the largest E. coli outbreak in Oregon state history that sparked a lawsuit against a county fair board.

The suit alleged that the board failed to exercise reasonable care and to give adequate warnings to the plaintiffs to protect them from danger.

Not just farm animals. And it’s not just farm animals that carry illness-causing pathogens, Hollis said.

Dogs, cats and other domestic and wild animals sometimes carry pathogens that can make people ill.

A recent example is the monkeypox outbreak in the United States, where ongoing investigations point to close contact with infected wild or exotic pets, mainly prairie dogs, as the primary form of transmission.

Some of the prairie dogs were kept as pets. As of June 18th, 87 human cases of monkeypox had been reported to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to published reports.

Thirty-eight of them were from Wisconsin, 24 from Indiana, 19 from Illinois, four from Ohio, and one each were from Kansas and Missouri.

Enjoy the fair. Concerns about health should not keep people from enjoying being around and having contact with animals, the scientists agreed.

But taking simple precautions such as thorough hand washing can make the difference between an enjoyable memory and a difficult incident, they said.

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