Consumer Reports: Preventing the spread of germs from animals

The recent E. Coli outbreak linked to a county fair in California highlights how outbreaks around animal exhibits and petting zoos are more common than you might think.

Every year many people, including children, get sick after contact with animals. Consumer Reports has some helpful tips on how to keep your family safe the next time you visit animals.

"Here adults teach kids to appreciate animals to respect animals. It allows kids to transition from being taken care of to being caretakers," aaid Michael Kaufman, Farm and Wildlife Director at Green Chimneys Farm School.

And learning about animals includes lessons about cleanliness and safety, which is important not just for the animals, but also for anyone who interacts with them. Because even animals that are healthy and well taken care of can carry germs that can make you sick.

"Some of the most common harmful germs people get from animals at exhibits are E. coli, Cryptosporidium, and Salmonella, but there's an easy way to keep yourself safe - wash your hands," said Lisa Gill, Consumer Reports Health and Medicine Investigative Reporter.

The CDC says to wash your hands immediately after touching animals or anything in the area where they live.

Even if you don't touch the animals, it's still important to wash your hands because the pens and areas around where animals live can also be contaminated.

"Using running water and soap to wash your hands is always best, but if they are not available, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol and wash your hands with soap and water as soon as possible," said Gill.

To limit their exposure to the potentially harmful germs, don't eat or drink around animals and make sure children keep their hands and fingers and other objects out of their mouths when they are around animals. Children also should not sit on the ground or play in the dirt of an animal area.

"The benefits of being outside of working with animals so outweigh those risks and so we teach the kids how to manage those risks. Wash your hands. Don't put your face in an animal's face. Be logical about it," said Kaufman.

The same goes for your own pets. While the risk of getting sick isn't as high, dogs and cats can make us sick too, so children and adults should wash their hands after feeding or playing with their furry friends.
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