E. Coli and petting zoos

Friday, April 20th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

It's a rite of spring for many of us, a trip to the zoo, or a petting farm. But there's a warning that those cute little animals may harbor an ugly sickness. KOTV's Scott Thompson says the government's Centers for Disease Control is warning of the dangers of E-Coli lurking in places as innocent as petting zoos.

Ashley Eubanks spent most of the day at the Tulsa Zoo, cuddling, as any child would, the soft and sweet little creatures in the children's zoo. When she's finally had enough, Ashley's mother, Angela Eubanks, will insist on one last stop. "Now when Ashley gets done petting the animals here are you going to have her go down and use the soap dispenser?" Ashley, "Yes." Angela, "Is that something you always do? Ashley, "Yes." Angela, "This is the third time we've been to the petting zoo today and this will be the third time she's sanitized afterwards." The zoo has a dispenser of antibacterial soap alongside the goats and sheep, and signs urging its use.

Hand washing is the best way to stop E-Coli in its tracks. Usually associated with uncooked meat, E-Coli can also be picked up in animal feces, sickening 56 people last year at a Pennsylvania petting farm. Children mostly, who touched the animals, then put their hands to their own mouths. That kind of interaction goes on all the time at events like the Tulsa State Fair. But after a recent warning from the Health Department, fair organizers will be rolling out the soap and water this fall. Fairgrounds executive director, Denny Tuttle says, "We're gonna try to make hand washing stations available throughout the livestock facilities this year."

Back at the Tulsa Zoo, Don Hill's children had a wonderful day with the critters. "But Dad made sure they each got a dollop of soap at the end of their visit." Hill's a restaurant manager and says hand washing is a regular habit for him and the kids. And no, an E-Coli scare won't keep the family away from petting zoos. "Not at all, we live in a rural area and my kids are around animals all day long. And as long as they wash their hands, they ought to be able to keep hugging away." E-Coli brings with it fever, vomiting and severe diarrhea, but sustained hand washing can beat it.

The CDC is urging zoos and petting farms to end all contact between their animals and the public, but the Tulsa Zoo and State Fair say they won't go that far, at least not yet. When the zoo takes animals out to schools for the kids to handle, they provide each youngster with an anti-bacterial hand wipe to use at the end of the visit.