Reducing risk of infection from animal contact and farm visits


As we come into spring-time and lambing season, visiting a farm is an enjoyable and educational experience for many people, particularly children. However, visiting a farm or animal petting centre carries a small risk of catching infection from animals or the environment. Highland Council Environmental Health Service in conjunction with NHS Highland, wish to raise awareness of such risks and to draw people’s attention to simple precautions that can be taken to help reduce the risk of infection.

Farm animals can be the source of several bugs that can be passed from animals to humans and cause illness such as cryptosporidiosis and shiga toxin-producing E. coli (e.g. E. coli O157). Some of these infections can be particularly serious for certain groups such as children and those who are immunocompromised. Whilst we still encourage families and people to continue visiting farms and learning about the environment and rural culture, we would advise following the simple steps  below to protect   you and your family from infections that may be found on farms or with contact with animals. Pregnant women need to take particular care as infections acquired from animals can be harmful to them and their unborn baby.

Simple precautions to take when visiting a farm or animal petting centre

  • Do wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after you have touched animals, fences or other surfaces in animal areas
  • Do wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before eating or drinking
  • Do remove and clean boots or shoes that might have become soiled and clean pushchair wheels. Then wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.
  • Do supervise children closely to ensure that they wash their hands thoroughly
  • Do eat and drink in picnic areas or cafes only
  • Do not eat or drink while touching animals or walking round the farm. This includes not eating sweets, crisps, or chewing gum.
  • Do not eat anything  that has fallen on the floor/ground
  • Do not let children suck their fingers or put their hands in their mouths while petting animals or walking round the farm
  • Do not kiss farm animals or allow children to put their faces close to animals
  • Do not use gels or wipes alone instead of washing hands with soap and water. Gels and wipes do not remove bugs in dirt.

Alan Yates, Environmental Health Manager said “Our Service is keen to raise awareness of the simple precautions that can be taken to help people avoid the risk of infection when visiting farms or animal petting centres at this time of year. Each year we investigate a number of cases of illness linked to contact with animals, and we hope by highlighting the importance of handwashing and other simple precautions we can try and reduce such incidences.”

Dr Jenny Wares, Consultant in Public Health Medicine (Health Protection) added “Farm animals can be a source of a range of different infections, some of which can be particularly serious. It is important that simple steps are taken to minimise the risk of any infections when visiting farms or animal petting centres so that your visits are both enjoyable and safe”

If anyone does feel unwell or has any symptoms, for example is sick or has diarrhoea after visiting a farm or animal petting centre, you should contact your GP or call NHS 24 for further advice.

For further information, a public health factsheet about avoiding infection from farm visits is available on the Highland Council and NHS Highland websites.


8 Apr 2019
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