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Petting zoos, fairs emphasize hygiene after children sickened by E. coli

Posted at 6:17 PM, Jul 01, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-01 23:45:00-04

One child is dead and three others are sick after contracting E. coli at the San Diego County Fair.

A petting zoo is believed to be the likely culprit.

The Santa Barbara County Fair starts next Wednesday and they’re now issuing a reminder to visitors about proper hand washing techniques to help avoid an E. coli outbreak here.

Local petting zoos say they’re taking similar preventative steps.

Lorna Kirk has had a petting zoo at Windmill Farms near Nipomo for more than a decade.

“We’ve had thousands of kids come through here, we have school tours come through and it brings a lot of joy to the kids,” Kirk said.

While the animals are fun for kids of all ages, they could carry E. Coli. In fact, humans can, too.

Kirk says they set up hand washing stations when schools come to visit and now plan on doing even more after one child died at the San Diego County Fair.

“We set up hand wash stations but we are planning, since we heard about this, to set up permanent hand washing stations right outside so that’ll be easily accessible for the kids and some signage for the parents because we want to make sure they’re safe,” Kirk said.

The Santa Barbara County Public Health Department says they get 10-15 cases of E. coli per year, but they haven’t seen any cases related to petting zoos in recent years.

Santa Maria Fairpark CEO Richard Persons said in a statement, “Our hearts go out to the families in San Diego. Visiting the fair should be a special and amazing experience. We value our safety record and we remain confident in the steps our contractors take to extend a safe and hygienic experience to our visitors.”

Santa Barbara County Animal Services says it’s best to always wash your hands if you plan on touching animals at the fair and avoid putting strollers in areas with animals.

“If any animal has defecated, and even if it’s been cleaned up and they go through with their stroller, some of the matter can get on the stroller and then you can take it home in your environment. So it’s a really good idea to clean off the wheels of your strollers when you get home,” explained Becky Clement, Registered Vet Tech for Santa Barbara County Animal Services.

Clement says while you can use hand sanitizer, sanitizers don’t kill all forms of E. coli. She recommends using the hand washing stations provided by the fair.

The Santa Maria Fairpark says it plans on providing hand-washing stations at the petting zoo and pony areas, as well as in the barns.

The California Mid-State Fair is right around the corner, as well.

San Luis Obispo County’s Public Health Department says they had eight cases of E. coli reported countywide last year and five so far this year, but no record of E. coli being traced back to the fair.