Petting Zoo Animals Can Transmit Highly Virulent Drug Resistant Bacteria to Children and Best Tips if You Decide to Go Anyway

castle_storeThat petting zoo animals can transmit highly virulent drug resistant bacteria to children is not what this Grandma wanted to read on Science Daily April 14, 2019.

Here is the headline:

“New research presented at this year’s European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases (ECCMID) in Amsterdam, Netherlands (13-16 April) shows that petting zoos can create a diverse reservoir of multidrug resistant (MDR) bacteria, which could lead to highly virulent drug-resistant pathogens being passed on to visitors.  The study is by Professor Shiri Navon-Venezia of Ariel University, Ariel, Israel and colleagues, and aimed to explore the prevalence, molecular epidemiology, and risk factors for animals in petting zoos becoming colonised by MDR bacteria.”

We just received photographs from our California cousins of the three and five year olds at a petting zoo with their school.  Of course, I had to send their highly educated and caring mother the study.  Her response was interesting. “Important to wash hands for sure. Other side of the coin I have heard is that exposure to the farm animals helps prevent allergies by exposure to the allergens at a young age. I guess as a parent you can’t win!”

As a grandparent you cannot win either.  When we visit our younger grandchildren in spring and fall, we love to take them to Clark’s Elioak Farm, farming in Howard County since 1797. Clark’s Farm,10500 Clarksville Pike Ellicott City, MD 21042 .   We are going to visit them at the end of May and Clark’s Farm is always on our list of things to do.

In addition to a petting zoo, they have a train, hay ride, cow ride, pony rides, do educational tours, and more.  It is a wonderful day in the country.  You can buy feed and feed the animals.  There are signs to wash your hands, and lots of troughs around to do so.  Our cousin would approve, I guess.

They even have an on premises store and online store for their meats and produce.  They raise and sell 100% grass fed beef, non-GMO pork, and all-natural vegetables and fresh cut herbs to sell directly to their customers. They do not use any antibiotics or hormones on their animals, and no chemical fertilizers or pesticides on their garden.

Petting zoos are a popular attraction as they are interactive with children visiting, holding and petting the animals but here is the bad news from the study:

“Extended spectrum beta-lactamase (ESBL) and AmpC-producing Enterobacteriaceae (AmpC-E), which are resistant to a number of commonly used antibiotics, have become a matter of great concern in both human and veterinary medicine, so understanding the likelihood of them colonizing the animals is critical to evaluating the risk that may be posed to visitors.”

Here is what they did in the study:

“In total, 382 samples were collected from 228 animals, and 12% of the animals were found to be colonised with at least one ESBL/AmpC-producing bacterial strain, with 35 different recovered species of bacteria. The majority (77%) of the MDR bacteria were obtained from feces, with the remaining 23% coming from skin, fur, or feathers. A quarter of those animals which tested positive for drug-resistant bacteria were colonised by more than one bacterial strain. Among the bacterial strains identified, were the highly virulent E. coli ST656, which causes travellers’ diarrhea, and E. coli ST127; a frequent cause of urinary tract infections in humans.”

What is so interesting is the finding that “analysis of the data revealed that if an animal was treated with antibiotics it was seven times more likely to shed MDR bacteria.”

The Professor Navon-Venezia who did the study concluded:

“Our findings demonstrate that animals in petting zoos can result in shedding and transmission of MDR pathogens that may cause illness for human visitors, even when the animals appear healthy. We recognize the high educational and emotional value of petting zoos for children, therefore, we strongly recommend that petting zoo management teams implement a strict hygiene and infection control policy, together with rationalised antibiotic policy, in order to reduce the risk of transmission between animals and visitors.”

QUESTIONS WE SHOULD BE ASKING are given to us by Professor Navon-Venezia and, even if the animals appear healthy, we should inspect the facilities for strict hygiene, infection control policy, and antibiotic policy. Ask questions before going to a petting zoo and especially before letting children touch the animals:

*Does the zoo have installation of handwashing stations to ensure proper handwashing before and after petting animals?

*Does the zoo prohibit food and drinking near animals?  I guess no more feeding the animals.

*Does the zoo not allow petting of animals receiving antibiotic treatment?

Clark’s Farm meats for sale are antibiotic free.  Now I need to call and ask if all of the petting zoo animals are also antibiotic free.

Better to be prepared than be sorry with our precious grandchildren.





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