Twin Cities attorney Fred Pritzker is investigating the outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 and hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) at Dehn’s pumpkin farm in Dayton, Minnesota. As part of the investigation, he is asking if Dehn’s used preventative measures to to combat the well-known risk of E. coli infections from animal contact at petting zoos. Pritzker said that in virtually every outbreak, the germs are spread because individual owners and companies fail to comply with established safety rules.
To date, three children have confirmed cases of matching infections of E. coli O157:H7 (all with the same DNA fingerprint determined by pulsed-filed gel electrophoresis (PFGE)). One of the children remains hospitalized with kidney failure from HUS, a potentially fatal complication of an E. coli infection. Two additional people, an adult and a child, have suspected cases.
“Most parent are unaware that animal contact at petting zoos can cause illness,” said attorney Pritzker, who recently won $4.5 million for an E. coli victim. “Minnesota families deserve to know what precautions Dehn’s took to protect their children from getting dangerously sick.”
The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) provides preventative information for petting zoo operators. One of these recommendations is that calves not be displayed. It is extremely difficult to prevent infections in children who have close, prolonged contact with young calves, according to MDH.
MDH also recommends that operators adhere to federal recommendations found in the Compendium of Measures To Prevent Disease Associated with Animals in Public Settings, 2011 , created by the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians. These precautions outline the risk of bacterial illness from even healthy animals, which can harbor human enteric pathogens in their intestines which can come out in their feces.
Some of the recommended safety measures include the following:
- Separate animal areas (where animal contact is possible or encouraged) from eating and other areas;
- Provide good hand-washing facilities throughout the venue and display hand-washing signs;
- Establish transition areas through which visitors pass when entering and exiting animal areas;
- Post signs warning visitors of the risk of serious illness from animal contact;
- These posters should instruct visitors not to eat, drink, smoke, place their hands in their mouth, or use bottles or pacifiers while in the animal area;
- Do not allow strollers and related items (e.g., wagons and diaper bags) in animal area;
- Don’t allow overcrowding;
- Have staff posted near animal area exits who can encourage hand washing;
- do not allow children to sit or play on the ground in animal areas (one outbreak in another state was caused by children playing in cow manure);
- Promptly remove manure and soiled animal bedding from animal areas;
- Disinfect animal areas (e.g., flooring and railings) at least once daily.