On November 16, Cowlitz County announced that at least 10 people had fallen ill with E. coli infections after visiting the petting zoo. The owners of Willow Grove Gardens Pumpkin Patch had added hand-washing sinks to its facility after the first 4 E. coli cases were reported, but closed the petting zoo after the E. coli outbreak continued.
E. coli O157:H7 and E. coli O121 were both isolated from case-patients who had visited the farm.
Petting Zoo Safety
A 2003 study on the prevalence of E. coli O157:H7 in livestock at 29 county and three large state agricultural fairs in the United States found that E. coli O157:H7 could be isolated from 13.8% of beef cattle, 5.9% of dairy cattle, 3.6% of pigs, 5.2% of sheep, and 2.8% of goats. Over 7% of pest fly pools also tested positive for E. coli O157:H7. Shiga toxin-producing E. coli does not make the animals that carry it ill. The animals are merely the reservoir for the bacteria.
Even if you do not touch animals, the environment that the animal lives in can be contaminated by germs. This means that hand washing is still critical when visiting areas where animals reside even though you never touch the animals. Do not eat when visiting animal contact areas. Eating and food preparation should be done in separate areas.
Several outbreaks have been linked to children visiting farms. Agents identified in these outbreaks include E. coli O157, Cryptosporidium, Salmonella, and Campylobacter. The risks to visitors and farm families include direct contact with animals shedding potential pathogens, contaminated environment, and consumption of contaminated products.