I’ve written several things about petting zoos and zoonoses because many of my veterinarian readers deal with the public in some of these venues, especially local, state and county fairs.

This week in his barfblog, Kansas State food safety expert Doug Powell, PhD, has an extensive article on petting zoos and zoonoses at the height of petting zoo and fair season.

“People have to be careful, and a lot more careful than they thought,” Powell says in his article. “That’s what I told my 3-year-old’s daycare as they prepared for a chicken coop. I’m not sure people like that message.”

Like it or not, illness from petting zoos or contact with animals at the fair is a very real thing. This is occurring as 12 people were sickened with influenza A (H3N2) variant from contact with pigs at petting zoos last week and four outbreaks linked with mail-order chicks have sickened hundreds with Salmonella, says Powell.

Powell references a recently published study looking at Kansas and Missouri petting zoos from 2010-2011, and methods and usage of hygiene at those venues. The results were not encouraging. Many of the venues did not have handwashing stations, or the ones they had were in inconvenient locations, or out of soap, water or hand sanitizer.

Read more from study collaborator Gonzalo Erdozain here

On observation of visitors, only 37% of visitors washed their hands or used a hand sanitizer when leaving. “That’s not really surprising but it’s disappointing nonetheless,” Powell says. “People are skipping what is typically the biggest risk factor for pathogen transmission in petting zoos.”

Veterinarians may not have any authority over petting zoos at farms, fairs or other events, but you do have the knowledge of zoonotic transmission of disease, and could be a helpful if not welcome advisor to some of these attractions.

Get involved if you can. It might be your child, grandchild, neighbor or acquaintance who ends up with that “ick” from the baby goat or chick on their hands that you don't want spread around.