A CUMBRIA and north Lancashire public health chief is urging parents to be aware of potential infections that can be caught at farm attractions.

Dr Ken Lamden says everyone should practice good hand hygiene when visiting petting farms where animals can be handled.

Over the past 20 years, an average of around 80 cases of cryptosporidium infection linked to visits to petting farms have been reported to Public Health England each year. This is out of a total of around two million visits to the 1,000 plus farm attractions in the UK, with peak visitor times during school and public holidays.

Cryptosporidium is a parasite that can be found in soil, water or on any surface that has been contaminated with human or animal faeces, especially from farm animals. The symptoms of cryptosporidiosis are typically watery diarrhoea and stomach pains. There is no specific treatment for the illness which is usually self-limiting, although it is important that anyone with the illness keeps hydrated.

Cryptosporidium is only one of a number of bugs that can be picked up during a visit to a petting farm. Other common infections are caused by E. coli and Salmonella.

Dr Lamden, of PHE’s Cumbria and Lancashire Centre, said: “Visiting a farm is a very enjoyable experience for both children and adults alike but it's important to remember that contact with farm animals carries a risk of infection because of the micro-organisms - or germs – they carry.

“Anyone visiting a petting farm should be aware of the need to wash their hands thoroughly using soap and water after they have handled animals or been in their surroundings. Children are more at risk of serious illness and should be closely supervised to make sure that they wash their hands thoroughly.

“It is also very important not to rely on hand gels and wipes for protection because these are not suitable against the sort of germs found on farms.”

As well as thorough hand washing visitors are advised:

• Do not put hands on faces or fingers in mouths while petting animals or walking round the farm.

• Do not kiss farm animals nor allow children to put their faces close to animals.

• Do not eat or drink while touching animals or walking round the farm. This includes not eating sweets, crisps or chewing gum.

• Do not eat anything that has fallen on the floor.

• Do not use gels or wipes instead of washing hands with soap and water. Gels and wipes do not remove E. coli O157 that is in dirt.

• Do wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after you have touched animals, fences or other surfaces in animal areas.

• Do wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before eating or drinking.

News Release 2 • Do remove and clean boots or shoes that might have become soiled and clean pushchair wheels. Then wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.

• Do supervise children closely to ensure that they wash their hands thoroughly.

• Do eat and drink in picnic areas or cafes only