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Go ahead and pet the animals

The Chronicle reports that thousands of visitors will soon flock to the Twin Cities for the Southwest Washington Fair. And interacting with farm animals is as much a part of most people’s fair experience as elephant ears and cotton candy.
Sheep, pigs, horses, goats and many other barnyard dwellers can carry illnesses and bacteria that can be easily transferred to humans. Many of these cross-contaminations reported each year happen at fairs and festivals.
What many visitors to the six-day extravaganza do not recognize is contact with perfectly healthy animals can also make them sick. The National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes organisms including E. coli 0157-H7, Campylobacter, Salmonella and Cryptosspordium are found in the feces of most livestock, which often contaminates the animals’ fur, hair, skin and saliva. If ingested by humans, these bacteria can cause symptoms such as fever, vomiting, nausea and diarrhea.
The CDC lists the following recommendations to stay healthy at animal exhibits:
• Find the nearest hand-washing station and use it after touching animals or their enclosures, and especially before eating and drinking.
• Consider carrying a bottle of hand-sanitizing gel in case hand-washing stations are unavailable.
• Keep food and drink out of animal areas.
• Do not allow children to put hands or other objects in their mouths while interacting with animals.
• Never share food with animals — this will keep both you and the animal healthy.
• Senior citizens, children younger than 5, pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems should limit exposure.

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