Health scares and petting farms
The recent outbreak of E. coli amongst children who had all visited various petting farms around the country clearly demonstrated the risks involved in the contact between humans and farm animals. The outbreak has created some debate as to whether children should be prevented from petting the animals. Petting farms are beneficial because they educate young children about animals, allowing them to come into close contact with animals in a way that is not possible in urban areas.
In the recent scare, a children’s farm in Surrey became the centre of media attention when more than 50 people suffered from E. coli infections. Several young children had to be treated in hospital because of the severity of their illness. Many people affected by the outbreak, which took place at Godstone Farm in Surrey, were angered by the fact that the farm was not closed earlier. The outbreak began in mid August but the farm was only closed in early September. The risk of people catching diseases like E. coli can be greatly reduced by ensuring that people visiting petting farms wash their hands thoroughly.
E. coli is a bug that is commonly found in the natural environment and in humans. Some strains of the disease are very harmful to humans, particularly the 0157 strain of the bacteria. This strain lives within the gut of animals such as cattle, where it does no harm to the animal itself. The bug is found in the animals’ faeces and can be passed on to human beings when they touch animals that have been carrying the bug. The 0157 strain is the most dangerous form of the bug and causes serious health problems within human beings like diarrhoea, and in the worst cases requires intensive hospital treatment. E. coli is particularly infectious because it is able to live on surfaces for long periods
of time, giving people a greater chance of catching an infection from being around infectious animals.
E. coli can also be spread to humans if they eat contaminated food, such as beef that hasn’t been cooked properly. Because of this outbreaks of the disease are linked to both farms and food outlets that provide people with the contaminated meat. This is not to say that farms are completely responsible for a person developing the disease, as cooking meat properly does kill the harmful bacteria that may be present in the meat being eaten.
The threat of infectious diseases spreading to humans is something that owners of children’s farms must always consider, and encouraging visitors to take precautions is very important. Farmers may not be able to eradicate the bug from their animals, but they are able to inform the public that by washing their hands thoroughly and preventing very young children from touching the animals too much, they can reduce the risk of infection.