Parents are reminded that their children should wash their hands thoroughly after petting farm animals.
The reminder from the Department of Environment, Food and Agriculture comes after four children were taken to hospital in Lancashire after they were infected with the potentially deadly E. coli 0157 bacteria.
The children, all under 10, took ill after attending a live lambing event at a farm.
Many animals carry E. coli O157 infection, even when they appear clean and healthy, although the main carriers are cattle, sheep and goats.
When an animal is infected with E. coli O157, bacteria are in its droppings and may be on its body and nearby fences and surfaces.
‘Touching these leads to infection if the bacteria are transferred to the mouth,’
said Ivan Bratty, DEFA’s Food Safety Manager.
‘It only takes a small number of bacteria to cause infection.’
Under fives are at greater risk of infection than older children and adults as they are more vulnerable to E. coli O157 and more likely to be seriously ill if infected, Mr Bratty said.
‘The recent cases serve as a timely reminder of the importance of thorough hand washing after handling livestock and before preparing or handling food to prevent infection and the spread of disease in the community,’ Mr Bratty said.
‘I certainly wouldn’t wish to discourage families from getting out and about into the countryside and coming into contact with animals, but I’d urge parents to remember that a range of infections can be passed on through contact with animals unless care is taken to avoid them.
‘It is impossible to stop toddlers putting their fingers in their mouths after petting animals but by following simple hygiene rules and washing hands thoroughly after contact, the danger of infection will remain low.’