Pet farm visitors should follow basic guidelines to avoid infection

The HSE and the South East Regional Zoonoses Committee have urged visitors to Open or Pet Farms to follow basic guidelines in order to reduce the risk of picking up infections, especially VTEC E.coli O157.

The HSE and the South East Regional Zoonoses Committee have urged visitors to Open or Pet Farms to follow basic guidelines in order to reduce the risk of picking up infections, especially VTEC E.coli O157.

The committee has sent a short leaflet highlighting these guidelines to every primary school and crèche in counties Carlow, Kilkenny, South Tipperary, Waterford and Wexford.

Dr. Sarah Doyle (a Consultant in Public Health Medicine with the HSE and a member of the South East Regional Zoonoses Committee) says that now spring has arrived, many families, schools and crèches may be planning visits to Open or Pet Farms where children are more likely to come into contact with farm animals and their environment.

Outlining her advice on the subject, Dr. Doyle said: “Adherence to a number of basic guidelines will make sure that visits to farms are a safe and enjoyable experience for everyone, especially children, who get to learn more about rural life and experience contact with animals.

Visitors should:

•Observe farm notices

•Avoid consuming unpasteurised products

•Avoid tasting animal feedstuffs

•Cover all cuts or broken skin with waterproof plasters

•Avoid letting your face come into contact with animals

•Eat only in designated eating areas

•Wash and dry hands after contact with animals or animal feed and before eating and drinking

•Ensure that children’s hand-washing is supervised by adults

•Ensure that children under the age of five are very closely supervised in the presence of any animals

•Avoid eating anything off the ground

•Avoid putting fingers in your mouth or in the mouths of animals

•Avoid touching manure or slurry

•Only feed animals under supervision from a farm worker

•Pregnant women should avoid handling sheep or lambs

•Wash your hands and make sure that your shoes are free from animal dung when leaving the farm.

“These guidelines are particularly important for vulnerable people such as children, the elderly or immunocompromised people. VTEC can cause severe bloody diarrhoea and abdominal cramps. Usually there is little or no fever, and patients recover within five to 10 days. However, some people, particularly children under five years of age and the elderly, are at risk of a complication called haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS), in which the red blood cells are destroyed and the kidneys fail. This happens in up to 10% of child cases. HUS is the principal cause of acute kidney failure in children, and the majority of cases of HUS are caused by E. coli O157:H7.

“So far in Ireland we have had no confirmed cases connected with Open or Pet Farms, although the UK has seen many such cases. Adherence to these simple guidelines will ensure that such cases are kept to a minimum here,” she said.