Petting Zoos Tied to E. Coli

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A life-threatening kidney infection has been linked to a petting zoo in Florida.

Florida health officials have confirmed nine cases of Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome, or HUS. The potentially dangerous kidney condition is a rare complication from a rising from an initial infection most commonly associated with E. Coli.

E. Coli is a bacterium found in undercooked beef or contaminated food. Health officials believe the hospitalized children and adults were exposed to it by animal droppings.

At Easter time every year, a petting zoo is set up inside the Colonial Village Mall, but this year there is more of an emphasis on forcing kids to practice common sense hand washing techniques.

Kids are naturally attracted to farm animals, but is it possible that getting up close and personal is hazardous to their health?

Dr. William Renk specializes in pediatric medicine at Swedish American Hospital. Dr. Renk says certain strains of E. Coli can be found in the feces from cattle, deer and sheep.

Dr. Renk says, “They can get it from petting the animal. They don't have to be playing in feces of animal, but contaminants are around, and that's why good hand washing is important."

Symptoms of Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome are bloody diarrhea and a red pinpoint freckle rash. Since the petting zoo outbreak in Florida, parents here are making sure their kids are having some good clean fun.

Amal Mizyed took her daughter to the Colonial Village petting zoo and says, "I make sure she washes her hands. We've been around livestock before, so as long as you wash hands before and after, I don't see too much of a risk."

Rich Buttera took his four kids and tells 23 News, "I watch that they're not sticking hands in their mouth. You just have to watch them, but I think this is safe."

Oakridge Ranch Amusements runs the petting zoo at Colonial Village Mall. In all their years here, there has never been an E. Coli outbreak.

Manager Dave Toell says, "We give them enclosed hand wipes. It has a soap solution, and we encourage them to go wash their hands in the mall."

At the petting zoo, only the animals get to munch.

Toell says, "When they come to petting zoo, signs are up that say ‘no stroller and no food items.’ You don't want to bring a youngster and drop his pacifier."

The regulations are in place and enforced to make sure our kids have a safe and happy Easter. Doctors say just to be on the safe side, if your child is feeling ill, go to get them checked.