Contact with animals in public settings, such as at fairs and petting zoos, can be fun and educational. However, it also can lead to the transmission of various serious infectious diseases, especially among children. Reports of illness have been documented from around the country and linked to organisms such as E. coli 0157:H7, Campylobacter, Salmonella and Cryptosporidium. The usual mode of transmission is the fecal-oral route. Since animal fur, hair, skin and saliva can become contaminated with fecal organisms, transmission of disease can occur when persons pets, touch or are licked by animals.

"This is the season for petting zoos, county fairs and other events where people come in contact with animals and we want to remind everyone that simple prevention steps, such as hand washing, can reduce the risk of illness," said Dr. Eric E. Whitaker, state public health director. "In fact, hand washing is the single most important step for reducing the risk for disease transmission."

The Illinois departments of Agriculture and Public Health have designed five posters addressing precautions persons should take when having contact with animals. These precautions include:

  • Do not bring pacifiers, food or beverages into animal areas
  • Closely supervise children to avoid touching manure, animal bedding and enclosure
  • Do not put hands to the mouth after petting animals
  • Wash hands after petting animals or touching the animal enclosure
  • Assist young children with hand washing

The recommended way to wash hands is as follows:

  • Wet hands with running water
  • Place soap in palms and rub hands together to make a lather
  • Scrub hands vigorously for 20 seconds
  • Rinse soap off hands
  • Dry hands with a disposable towel and, if possible, use a disposable towel to turn off the water
  • Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if running water and soap are not available. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are effective against many of the germs that animals can carry. However, they are not effective against bacterial spores, some parasites and certain viruses.