GOAT enjoying some grass
Always wash your hands after visiting a petting zoo or animal exhibit.

Protect Your Health When Visiting Animal Exhibits

Author: Public Health Department
Date: 7/11/2019 4:31 PM

Health officials commend the California Mid-State Fair for new measures to prevent the spread of illness. Visitors can also take simple steps to stay healthy when visiting animal exhibits.

The Public Health Department reminds residents and visitors to take simple steps to stay healthy when visiting animal exhibits at the California Mid-State Fair in Paso Robles.

This reminder follows news from San Diego of several recent illnesses and one death caused by E. Coli at the animal exhibits of the San Diego County Fair and follows nearly a year of local research on laboratory-confirmed cases of variant influenza that spread to people from pigs exhibited at the 2018 California Mid-State Fair.

This year, the California Mid-State Fair has implemented new measures to help prevent the spread of illness from animals to people, including a requirement that all pigs be vaccinated against swine flu in order to participate in the fair. Guests visiting the exhibits can also play an important role in protecting themselves and limiting the spread of illness.

“We commend the California Mid-State Fair for taking these important steps to protect our community’s health,” said Dr. Penny Borenstein, Health Officer of the County of San Luis Obispo. “I ask everyone who visits the animal exhibits to keep health top of mind and take steps—like washing your hands when you leave the exhibit—to protect yourself, your family and our community.”

This caution is valuable because even clean, healthy animals can carry germs that are harmful to people. Each year in the U.S., people become sick from visiting animal exhibits such as petting zoos, educational farms and agricultural shows. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported about 100 outbreaks of serious illness linked to these settings from 2010-2015. Practical, low-tech steps can go a long way in keeping guests safe.

Health officials say the most important advice is also the most simple: wash your hands. For handwashing, soap and water is most effective. If soap and water aren't available, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer (at least 60% alcohol) and wash your hands with soap and water at the first opportunity. Handwashing stations are available throughout the fair.

More tips to keep your visit healthy and fun:

  • Enjoy food and beverages outside the animal areas. If you are looking after animals and want to have a snack or a drink, leave the area and wash your hands before eating or drinking.
  • Leave strollers, pacifiers, bottles, sip cups and toys outside the animal area. These objects can come in contact with germs and later make children sick.
  • Always supervise children around animals to ensure they don’t sit on the ground or put hands or objects in their mouths when they’re in the exhibit space.
  • Avoid close face-to-face contact with animals at the exhibits.
  • One more time: wash your hands! Always wash your hands after petting animals or touching anything in the areas where animals stay. When you leave animal areas, wash your hands even if you did not touch the animals.

Some people are more at risk for illnesses that animals carry, including very young children (under age 5), older adults (over age 65), pregnant women and people with certain underlying medical conditions. These people should be especially careful around animal exhibits.

The Public Health Department partners with health care providers, community leaders, laboratories, and state officials to prevent and control the spread of infectious diseases in SLO County. Since confirming several cases of influenza spread from pigs to people at last year’s California Mid-State Fair, the Public Health Department conducted research in collaboration with the California Department of Public Health and CDC, worked with fair organizers on recommendations to limit the spread of illness, and met with local 4H and FFA groups to talk through tips for helping ensure exhibitors, guests and animals stay safe.

For more information on staying healthy around animal exhibits, and to learn about the new measures in place to help protect health at the California Mid-State Fair, visit www.midstatefair.com/fair.