This fact sheet provides advice to the general public, schools, childcare centres and petting zoo operators on how to minimise the risk of infection from animals through proper hygiene controls and practices.
Children are attracted to and enjoy petting animals. Petting zoos are often found at agricultural shows, carnivals, circuses and zoos. "Travelling" pet zoos may also visit preschools and childcare centres. People need to be aware of the potential health risks and how to avoid them when children pet animals.
Zoonoses are diseases that can be passed from animals to humans. Animals may carry a range of germs without showing any signs of disease. Most zoonoses are uncommon and can usually be treated when detected. While there are dozens of zoonotic diseases, there are a few that are particularly dangerous to humans. Zoonoses include Campylobacter infection, cryptosporidiosis, salmonellosis, toxin producing E. coli, orf, ringworm, Psittacosis, Q fever, hydatids, leptospirosis, lyssaviris, toxoplasmosis and toxocariasis.
Diseases can be spread through direct contact with animals and then placing contaminated fingers or other items in the mouth. Diseases can also be spread through animal bites and scratches, contact with their carcasses, or through indirect contact with their faeces, urine, saliva, blood, aerosols, birth products, or enclosures contaminated with these materials. Diseases can also be spread through contaminated dust.
Everyone is at risk but particularly those people with weakened immune systems, the elderly, pregnant women, young children and those who are ill.
Hand washing is the key. Infectious diseases may be spread from either animals or the environment to people by contaminated hands. Hand washing is one of the most important practices in preventing the spread of disease for visitors to petting zoos. Always wash hands with soap and running water before eating, drinking or smoking.
While visiting animals, do not:
Always wash hands and other exposed body parts with soap and running water, particularly after:
Preschool and childcare centres should obtain the informed consent of parents/guardians well before the petting zoo visits. Centre staff (perhaps with the assistance of some parents) should closely supervise children who are petting animals by using the precautions outlined above. Hand washing of the children immediately afterwards should also be closely supervised, ensuring that hand-washed children do not become recontaminated by playing with children who have not washed their hands.
Operators should take precautions to reduce the risk of ill health to visitors of the petting zoo. Operators should assume that all animals carry germs harmful to humans and take appropriate precautions to prevent the spread of disease, by:
Place obvious and prominent hand washing and directional signs in appropriate locations, such as the entrance or exits of the petting zoo, and in eating areas to remind visitors to:
Animal Contact Guideline is an excellent and more detailed publication by the Communicable Disease Control Branch and Environmental Health Branch of the South Australian Department of Human Services.
For further information please call your local public health unit on 1300 066 055.