The Petting Zoo and E.coli: Avoid Bringing Home an Unexpected Guest

You don’t have to be a germ-a-phobe to appreciate the scary nature of E.coli bacteria.Let me just confess now that I am a bit phobic about germs and slightly paranoid about safety. Sometimes this is okay, like in the case of avoiding E.coli contamination. You may recall how this nasty bug wreaked havoc in the produce section of the grocery store. Remember how– right when you got your toddler to eat spinach, you couldn’t buy any for weeks? (Perhaps that just happened to me.) And how about the salsa scare? And the massive U.S. beef recall? These were all brought to you by that vile and sneaky germ. You read the news and ff you are a like me, you’re feeling a little insecure about your food. By now, you are quadruple-washing your bagged greens. You are buying the bottled salsa in the chip isle of the store, instead of the fresh kind. And you are tearing the Steak Tartare recipes out of your cookbooks and throwing them away!!

But it gets worse. Now there is one more thing you need to do… keep your kids out of the petting zoo!! The latest E.coli alert is from the zoo, or in the case of recent outbreaks in Denver, the stock show.(see, In Denver, there were confirmed 12 cases of E.coli, which authorities believe correlate with the National Western Stock Show’s pulling into town just before the outbreaks occurred. If you think about it, the petting zoo is the perfect place to pick-up E.coli. You’ve got little kids touching animals, some of whom enjoy a good roll in feces every now and then. And as the Chronicle article points out, small children are not very careful about where they put their hands. For them, the animal’s tale is an awfully attractive thing to grab onto!

E.coli, or Escherichia coli, is a bacteria that resides in the colon. Thus, quite a bit can also be found in animal excrement. Some strains are quite harmless and already reside in the human digestive tract. The strains that make the news, however, can make you very ill and some can be fatal. There are disturbing stories about deadly strains affecting thousands through the water supply and from fertilizer. These are occurrences we can’t do much to avoid. But we can avoid the petting zoo, which is really important for very young children and children who have immunity-deficiencies. If you find yourself at the zoo or the rodeo and your child just cannot resist getting up close and personal with the animals, you should be sure that he or she washes her hands immediately afterward.
Exposure to most E.coli strains can be greatly reduced by washing produce and washing hands well. This is by far the best line of defense—WASHING HANDS! And you have to hover like a hawk to make sure none of your child’s fingers go into his mouth before you get him to the soap and water. Yes, this takes a bit of the joy away from the petting zoo experience…but not like a mean case of bloody diarrhea and a trip to the emergency room would!
Sometimes you really have to adopt the mantra of the paranoid parent and be “better safe than sorry!!”

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