NHS Wales
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Cryptosporidium and open farms

Public Health Wales is reminding people who visit farm attractions of the importance of washing their hands after contact with animals. 

Since April, Public Health Wales and Local Authority Environmental Health Officers have investigated several cases of diarrhoea potentially linked to visits to open farms. The cause is a tiny parasite (germ) called Cryptosporidium (or Crypto, for short). Cases have mainly been reported in young children but some adults have also been ill.

Several of the recent Crypto cases have visited open farms just before becoming ill, where further investigations and environmental sampling are taking place.

Public Health Wales is reminding people who visit open farms or other farm-based attractions of the importance of washing their hands, with warm running water and liquid soap and hygienic hand drying, after contact with animals. 

Open farms, farm parks, agricultural shows and rescue centres are all popular attractions especially for children but it’s important that visitors are aware of the disease risks associated with all livestock. 

Germs, including Crypto, can be caught from sheep, cows, goats but especially lambs, goat kids and calves, and from other livestock to humans through contact with infected faeces and other body fluids. This can happen even if the animals look healthy. 

You can also catch germs from animal bedding and fencing or by stroking their fur. It is also possible that infection can be picked up from other contaminated surfaces in a farm park, for example bouncy castles or sand pits, as well as the wider countryside.

Dr Robert Smith from the Public Health Wales Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre said:

"Animal petting and lambing events are popular with families and they are a great way to see more of the countryside and experience working life on a farm.

"However, it is important that everyone follows good hand hygiene advice to limit the transmission and spread of infectious diseases. Good hand washing after coming into contact with farm animals, their bedding or dirty equipment or clothing is really important in preventing infection.

"Although the number of people seriously affected by contact with farm animals is low, it is important that everyone, especially parents of younger children and pregnant women, are aware of the potential risks. Pregnant women or those with an underlying health condition including immunosuppression should avoid animal contact.

“Infection can also be passed on from animal bedding and fencing or by stroking their fur, consumption of animal food, or ingesting dirt from the environment.

“People are encouraged to contact their GP if they experience diarrhoea, especially bloody diarrhoea, watery diarrhoea, fever or flu-like symptoms and explain they have been in contact with a farm or with animals. GPs are encouraged to submit faecal specimens from patients who may have had animal contact and to indicate this on the request form.”

Simple hygiene precautions to remember include:

Check the hygiene facilities at the farm - there should be good hand washing facilities with hot running water, liquid soap and paper towels 

  • Hand gels are not a substitute for soap and water and will not kill many of the infections carried by animals.  
  • Wash hands with soap and hot water immediately after touching animals, their fencing, flooring or bedding
  • Throw away any food or drink which has been dropped on the ground 
  • Outdoor picnic tables may be contaminated with bird droppings
  • Do not eat or drink while touching animals or walking round the farm 
  • Eat only in designated areas, and only after washing hands   
  • Ensure that children are closely supervised, and that they wash their hands properly 
  • Avoid putting fingers in mouths, biting fingernails or touching faces while petting animals or walking around the farm 
  • Avoid kissing farm animals and don’t allow children to put their faces close to animals 
  • Take particular care if pregnant, avoiding contact with farm animals and their droppings 
  • If possible to do so, clean contaminated footwear and pushchair wheels thoroughly before leaving the farm and wash your hands immediately afterwards 
  • Always read and follow the notices and signage on the farm

Further information:

Health and Safety Executive: Preventing or controlling ill health from animal contact at visitor attractions or open farms - Agriculture - HSE

The Visit My Farm website is an information hub for farmers hosting school visits and for teachers arranging school visits to farms: Code of Practice | Access To Farms (visitmyfarm.org)

What is Cryptosporidium?

Cryptosporidium is a microscopic single-celled parasite. 

Where is it found?

Cryptosporidium can be found in the gut of humans and particularly in farm and other domesticated animals. It can also be found in water or food contaminated with faeces. It survives outside of the body in the form of a spore, which can survive in the environment for long periods of time. Spores are resistant to the chemicals used to purify drinking water or disinfect surfaces. 

How is it spread?

Cryptosporidium is spread from direct contact with infected animals, or with items contaminated with animal faeces. It is also spread from picnicking in fields where animals have been grazing. Person to person spread may occur, particularly in households and nurseries. Outbreaks have also been associated with public and private water supplies and contaminated food.

What does it do?

Cryptosporidium causes diarrhoea, vomiting and abdominal pain, typically within 5 to 7 days of infection, although this period may be shorter or longer. These symptoms can last for around 2 weeks.

How is it controlled?

  • By washing hands thoroughly after using the toilet, helping someone else to do this, or changing nappies. 
  • By washing hands thoroughly after handling and feeding animals, including pets. 
  • By washing hands before eating or preparing food.
  • By not drinking untreated milk or untreated water. 
  • By following guidelines for farm visits. 

How should we wash hands?

Simply rinsing the tips of fingertips under cold water or using hand gels does NOT count. 

Here are some reminders: 

  • Always use hot running water and soap. It's better to wet hands before applying soap as this prevents irritation. 
  • Rub hands together vigorously for about 20 seconds, making sure both sides of the hands are washed thoroughly, around the thumbs, between each finger and around and under the nails. 
  • Then, rinse with clean water. 
  • Germs spread more easily if hands are wet so dry them thoroughly. Use a clean dry towel, paper towel or air dryer; it doesn't matter which.

Simple hygiene and handwashing precautions are important and can be found on the NHS website:
How to wash your hands - NHS (www.nhs.uk)

Owners of open farms are reminded of the importance of new health and safety guidance about how best to run visitor attractions with animal contact.

Channel website: http://www.wales.nhs.uk

Original article link: https://phw.nhs.wales/news/cryptosporidium-and-open-farms/

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