Public concern over the safety of petting farms is growing in the wake of the E coli 0157 outbreak in England, but there are steps you can take to help limit the chances of the infection hitting your farm.
What has been found at Godstone Farm?
Tests carried out on 7 September on 102 samples of animal faeces by the Veterinary Laboratories Agency found 33 contained a strain of E coli called VTEC 0157.
The positive samples came from ewes, lambs, pigs, goats, cattle, ponies and floor samples of rabbit droppings.
Tests carried the following week found the bacterium was present on the floor of the attraction’s main barn.
Are the E coli found in the animals at Godstone Farm the same as the ones causing the infection in children?
Eleven of the 33 positive samples contain a bacterium which is “indistinguishable” from the VTEC 0157 bacterium which has made 67 children ill.
What is the difference between this strain of E coli and other E coli?
There are different types of E coli. One produces the poison verotoxin 0157, and is the most common bacterium to cause disease in humans.
The toxins damage cells in the body, particularly in the kidneys.
How do you come into contact with E coli 0157?
Either by eating contaminated food, including meat and non-meat products, or hand-to-mouth following contact with infected material/animals, especially their droppings.
Infection can also be spread person-to-person, particularly in closed settings.
Where do animals get it from?
From other animals or a contaminated environment.
Does it cause disease in animals?
Only some strains of the bacterium do. The 0157 serogroup does not.
What can farms do to reduce the risk?
The VLA recommends you:
- Maintain a high level of hygiene on farm – VTEC 0157 can be present even in a small amount of dung. It can be transferred between animals, herds, by vehicles, clothes and tools.
- Enforce hygiene practices on your farm by
- frequent hand-washing
- wearing clean work clothes and changing footwear
- Keep a closed herd policy and avoid contact with animals from other herds – new animals can introduce VTEC onto farms.
- Store manure, slurry and dirty water for at least two weeks – bacteria can survive in the soil for a long time and infect grazing soil. Storage creates a lethal environment for bacteria.
- Keep bedding dry and clean in young stock enclosures – bacteria die more quickly in dry and clean environments.
- Maintain stable rearing groups – adding new animals may lead to stress and excretion of more dung. Stressed animals also appear to shed more VTEC 0157.
Are animals ever screened for VTEC?
Yes, as part of surveys on cattle farms and at abattoirs. Screenings have shown that a few animals harbour VTEC, particularly cattle and sheep. Infection is most common in calves.
VTEC does not cause illness in animals so it isn’t routinely looked for by vets.
Information courtesy of the VLA