Public Health Safety Concerns of Animals in Public Settings
Petting zoos, carnivals, educational exhibits, and wildlife photo opportunities are just a few of the venues which encourage and/or permit the public to be in contact with animals.
Along with the entertainment and educational benefits of this human-animal contact come the public health risks of infectious disease outbreaks and injuries.
National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians, Inc. (NASPHV) complied a report providing recommendations to minimize risks associated with animals in public settings. The report is published in the May 6, 2011 edition of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention weekly MMWR.
Infectious disease outbreaks have been caused by Escherichia coli O157:H7, Salmonella species, Cryptosporidium species, Coxiella burnetii, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, ringworm, and other pathogens.
In 2000, two E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks in Pennsylvania and Washington prompted CDC to establish recommendations for enteric disease prevention associated with farm animal contact. Risk factors identified in both outbreaks were direct animal contact and inadequate hand washing.
In the Pennsylvania outbreak, 51 persons (most were preschool children, age 4 years) became ill within 10 days after visiting a dairy farm. Eight (16%) of these patients acquired hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a potentially fatal complication of STEC infection which involves kidney failure. The same strain of E. coli O157:H7 was isolated from cattle, patients, and the farm environment.
In 2005, an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak among 63 patients, including seven who developed HUS, was associated with multiple fairs in Florida. Persons who reported feeding animals were more likely to have become ill.
In these and other outbreaks, persons were less likely to become ill if they reported washing their hands before eating or drinking. Among persons who washed their hands with soap and water, creating lather decreased the likelihood of illness, illustrating the value of thorough hand washing. Drying hands on clothing which might be contaminated increased the likelihood of illness.
The primary mode of transmission for enteric pathogens is fecal-oral. The infectious organisms may be present in animal fur, hair, skin, and saliva and therefore can be transmitted when persons pet, touch, feed, or are licked by animals.
Transmission also has been associated with contaminated animal bedding, flooring, barriers, other environmental surfaces, and contaminated clothing and shoes.
The most important recommendation is hand washing after contact with the animals or their environment. Food and snack should not be allowed in the animal areas.
The report also recommends the venues include transition areas between animal areas and nonanimal areas, visitors receive information about disease risk and prevention procedures, and animals be properly cared for and managed.
Venues must provide hand-washing facilities and display hand-washing signs where food or beverages are served. The visiting public is encouraged to use them to wash their hands after animal contact and prior to eating or drinking.
The visiting public should be educated not to eat, drink, smoke, place their hands in their mouth, or use bottles or pacifiers while in the animal area.
Venues should establish storage or holding areas for strollers and related items (e.g., wagons and diaper bags) outside the animal areas so no contamination can occur.
Recommendations are made for animal care including removing ill animals, especially those with diarrhea. Regular animal feed and water should not be accessible to the public. Venues should retain and use the services of a licensed veterinarian. Preventive care, including vaccination and parasite control, appropriate for the species should be provided.
It is recommended that all animals be housed to reduce potential exposure to wild animal rabies reservoirs. Mammals should also be up-to-date on rabies vaccinations according to current recommendations. In addition, rabies-reservoir species (e.g., bats, raccoons, skunks, foxes, and coyotes) should not be used for direct contact.
Because of their strength, unpredictability, venom, or the pathogens that they might carry, certain domestic, exotic, or wild animals should be prohibited in exhibit settings where a reasonable possibility of animal contact exists. Species of primary concern include nonhuman primates (e.g., monkeys and apes) and certain carnivores (e.g., lions, tigers, ocelots, wolves and wolf hybrids, and bears).