Press Release

June 6, 2005



SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – 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.

 “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 enclosures
  • 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 new posters are available to use at animal exhibits and can be downloaded from IDPH’s Web site at, under “A-Z Topic List,” “Animal Contact Precautions.”  

“Livestock exhibits and petting zoos have always been a favorite among visitors at our county and state fairs for a number reasons. For one, kids have a chance to get up close to animals that are not commonly found in the city,” Agriculture Director Chuck Hartke said. “We want kids to enjoy the animals but everyone needs to be aware of the precautions that should be taken to prevent the spread of germs and disease.”

The posters have been sent to all 105 county fairs in the state, Hartke said.

Children are most susceptible to infection from bacteria and parasites that animals may carry because they are more likely than others to put their fingers or other objects into their mouths and because their immune systems are still developing. Others at increased risk include pregnant women, the elderly, persons with HIV/AIDS, and others with weakened immune systems.

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. Proper hand washing can reduce the risk of transmission.   

The recommended way to wash hands is as follows:

  1. Wet hands with running water
  2. Place soap in palms and rub hands together to make a lather
  3. Scrub hands vigorously for 20 seconds
  4. Rinse soap off hands
  5. 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. It is important to remember to wash hands with running water and soap when hands are visibly dirty or soiled.

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Illinois Department of Public Health
535 West Jefferson Street
Springfield, Illinois 62761
Phone 217-782-4977
Fax 217-782-3987
TTY 800-547-0466
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