Certain venues encourage or permit the public to be in contact with animals, resulting in millions of human-animal interactions each year. These settings include county or state fairs, petting zoos, animal swap meets, pet stores, feed stores, zoologic institutions, circuses, carnivals, educational farms, livestock-birthing exhibits, educational exhibits at schools and child-care facilities, and wildlife photo opportunities. Veterinarians are often involved or present at many of these events, or could provide assistance and advice to these venues on prevention of zoonotic diseases.

As reported in the May 6, 2011 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians, Inc. (NASPHV) offers a Compendium of Measures to Prevent Disease Associated with Animals in Public Settings, 2011.

The report in MMWR says although human-animal contact has many benefits, human health problems are associated with these settings, including infectious diseases, exposure to rabies, and injuries. Infectious disease outbreaks have been caused by Escherichia coli O157:H7, species, Cryptosporidium species, Coxiella burnetii, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, Salmonella ringworm, and other pathogens. Such outbreaks have substantial medical, public health, legal, and economic effects.

Veterinarians (and their producers) are especially involved in livestock exhibitions such as at local, county and state fairs or shows, and many veterinary schools display birthing centers at these fairs and events to give the public some education on the birth/hatching of animals such as cows, sheep, pigs and poultry. 

Minimizing zoonotic disease risks to the public as well as producers and veterinarians themselves include:
Washing hands

  • Prohibiting food in animal areas
  • Transition areas between animal areas and non-animal areas
  • Information for visitors about disease risk and prevention
  • Proper care and management of animals

While the report discusses many species of animals that can transmit zoonotic disease (reptiles, pets, exotics) of most interest to the livestock industry are diseases that can be transmitted by cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and poultry. Examples of zoonotic cases with livestock at these types of events include:

  • In 2005, an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak among 63 patients was associated with multiple fairs in Florida where both direct animal contact and contact with sawdust or shavings were associated with illness, as well as persons who reported feeding animals.
  • In 2004, an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 infections was associated with attendance at the North Carolina State Fair goat and sheep petting zoo, where in addition to direct contact with animals, risk factors included manure contact and hand-to-mouth behaviors.
  • Orf virus infection (i.e., contagious ecthyma or sore mouth in sheep and goats) has occurred after contact with sheep at a public setting and has also been described in goats and sheep at a children's petting zoo and in a lamb used for an Easter photo opportunity.
  • Q fever (Coxiella burnetii), leptospirosis, listeriosis, brucellosis, and chlamydiosis are serious zoonoses that can be acquired through contact with reproductive materials such as at live-birthing exhibits. During birthing, infected animals shed large numbers of organisms, which can become aerosolized. A Q fever outbreak involving 95 confirmed cases was linked to goats and sheep giving birth at petting zoos in indoor shopping malls.

Among many of the recommendations, the report details preventive actions for animal areas where veterinarians may be likely to be involved. They are:

Animal Areas

  • Do not allow food and beverages in animal areas.
  • Do not allow toys, pacifiers, spill-proof cups, baby bottles, strollers or similar items in animal areas.
  • Prohibit smoking and other tobacco product use in animal areas.
  • Supervise children closely to discourage hand-to-mouth activities (e.g., nail-biting and thumb-sucking), contact with manure, and contact with soiled bedding. Children should not be allowed to sit or play on the ground in animal areas. If hands become soiled, supervise hand washing immediately.
  • Ensure that regular animal feed and water are not accessible to the public.
  • Allow the public to feed animals only if contact with animals is controlled (e.g., with barriers).
  • Do not provide animal feed in containers that can be eaten by humans (e.g., ice cream cones) to decrease the risk for children eating food that has come into contact with animals.
  • Promptly remove manure and soiled animal bedding from animal areas.
  • Assign trained staff members to encourage appropriate human-animal interactions, to identify and reduce potential risks for patrons, and process reports of injuries and exposures.
  • Store animal waste and specific tools for waste removal (e.g., shovels and pitchforks) in designated areas that are restricted from public access.
  • Avoid transporting manure and soiled bedding through nonanimal areas or transition areas. If this is unavoidable, take precautions to prevent spillage.
  • Where feasible, disinfect animal areas (e.g., flooring and railings) at least once daily.
  • Provide adequate ventilation both for animals (168) and humans.
  • Minimize the use of animal areas for public activities (e.g., weddings and dances). If areas previously used for animals must be used for public events, the areas should be cleaned and disinfected, particularly if food and beverages are served.
  • For birds in bird encounter exhibits, refer to the psittacosis compendium (145) for recommendations regarding disease prevention and control.
  • Visitors to aquatic touch tank exhibits who have open wounds should be advised not to participate. Hand-washing stations should be provided.
  • When using animals or animal products (e.g., animal pelts, animal waste, and owl pellets) for educational purposes, only use them in designated animal areas. Animals and animal products should not be brought into school cafeterias and other areas where food and beverages are prepared, served, or consumed.
  • When animals are in school classrooms, specific areas must be designated for animal contact. Designated animal areas must be thoroughly cleaned after use. Parents should be informed of the benefits and potential risks associated with animals in school classrooms.

Read the full report and recommendations here.