Families urged to be cautious at animal exhibits

Pediatrician: Washing hands can help prevent salmonella, E. coli infections

Author: Rachel McNeill, Anchor/Medical Expert, rmcneill@kprc.com
Published On: Feb 26 2013 04:51:20 PM CST   Updated On: Feb 26 2013 07:08:13 PM CST
HOUSTON -

As people take in the sights and sounds of Rodeo Houston, parents are being warned to take specific precautions when their children are around farm animals.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, petting zoo attractions can carry dangerous germs such as salmonella and E. coli.

Last fall, a toddler died after complications from an e coli infection picked up during a visit to a county fair in North Carolina, officials said. In total, 46 people were sickened and 10 were hospitalized. A majority of those who fell ill were children.

Pediatrician Dr. Debra Cutler with Kelsey-Seybold Clinic said safety starts with warm water and soap.

"Hand washing, hand washing, hand washing. I don't think there's anything better you can do," said Cutler.

The outbreak in North Carolina was the third in that state in the last decade despite stricter regulations to include more hand washing stations.

Cutler warned that using antibacterial gels isn't enough to prevent infection.

"It can suppress (the bacteria), but it doesn't kill. So you may still have it around, and a lot of kids put their fingers in their mouths," she said.

Cutler advises families to practice the same diligence they would with household pets like turtles, lizards and rabbits.

"I always let my kids go (to animal exhibits). I think it's fun for the kids. And I hate to say this, but I'm an animal lover and I think it's good for them not to feel afraid of animals. And these are very friendly animals," said Cutler.

The CDC also recommends parents always supervise children under five in petting zoos and animal exhibits. Parents are advised to never let their children put their hands, bottles or pacifiers in their mouths while handling animals.