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Released: June 23, 2003

K-State Scientists: Enjoy the Fair, Farm But Be Safe

MANHATTAN, Kan. Ė Kids and animals Ė theyíre a natural combination especially when warm summer days bring them together at the zoo or the fair. But Kansas State University scientists want to remind people to take basic health precautions as part of the day.

"Itís great to visit petting zoos or Uncle Billís farm, but itís also important to remember that any animal we handle may carry infectious disease," said Karen Penner, professor and food safety specialist with K-State Research and Extension.

Children and adults alike should wash their hands with soap and water and dry them thoroughly after being around animals of any kind, Penner said. Itís especially important to wash hands before eating.

Even if the animals werenít touched directly, bacteria can live on other surfaces Ė fences, gates and walls Ė for long periods of time, said Larry Hollis, K-State Extension beef veterinarian.

He cited a case in Oregon last summer, where 82 people became sick after visiting the fairís sheep and goat exhibit. What ensued was the largest E. coli outbreak in Oregon state history that sparked a lawsuit against a county fair board. The suit alleged that the board failed to exercise reasonable care and to give adequate warnings to the plaintiffs to protect them from danger.

And itís not just farm animals that carry illness-causing pathogens, Hollis said. Dogs, cats and other domestic and wild animals sometimes carry pathogens that can make people ill.

A recent example is the monkeypox outbreak in the United States, where ongoing investigations point to close contact with infected wild or exotic pets, mainly prairie dogs, as the primary form of transmission. Some of the prairie dogs were kept as pets. As of June 18th, 87 human cases of monkeypox had been reported to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to published reports. Thirty-eight of them were from Wisconsin, 24 from Indiana, 19 from Illinois, four from Ohio, and one each were from Kansas and Missouri.

Concerns about health should not keep people from enjoying being around and having contact with animals, the K-State scientists agreed. But taking simple precautions such as thorough hand washing can make the difference between an enjoyable memory and a difficult incident, they said.

For more information, interested persons can visit the county Extension office or visit the K-State Research and Extension Food Safety News Web site at http://www.ksre.ksu.edu/foodsafety/fsnews.htm#2001. Go to the June 2001 Food Safety News and read "Down on the Farm." Also available at the CDC Web site are recommendations for those in contact with farm animals and other information by selecting http://www.cdc.gov/foodborneoutbreaks/.

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K-State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well-being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county Extension offices, experiment fields, area Extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K-State campus, Manhattan.

Story by:
Mary Lou Peter, Interim News Coordinator
mlpeter@oznet.ksu.edu
K-State Research& Extension News

Additional Information:
Karen Penner is at 785-532-1672 and Larry Hollis is at 785-532-1246