Soap and water best on farm visitsGels don't kill all germs
Families visiting open farms over Easter have been warned not to rely on hand gels or wipes to protect them from harmful germs.
Experts say the best way to minimise the risk of picking up an infection is to use soap and running water.
Farm animals can carry a variety of germs which can cause disease in people.
Research by the Health Protection Agency (HPA) of 55 outbreaks linked to petting farms between 1992 and 2009 showed that one of the risk factors associated with illness was people using hand gels instead of soap and water.
Other risk factors included children sucking their thumbs after touching animals and bottle-feeding lambs.
Most outbreaks were caused by E.coli 0157 and a parasite known as Cryptosporidium.
Hand gels are not effective at killing organisms such as E.coli or Cryptosporidium which can be found in animal droppings and on contaminated surfaces around farms, and don't remove contamination in the manner that soap and water can, the Agency said.
To reduce the risk of illness, both adults and children should thoroughly wash their hands using soap and water after they have handled animals or touched surfaces at a farm and always before eating or drinking.
Dr Bob Adak, an expert in gastrointestinal disease, 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 bacteria - or germs - they naturally carry.
"It is very important to avoid direct contact with animal droppings and also to be aware of the importance of good hand hygiene. As soon as you have finished touching the animals it is very important to wash your hands using soap and hot water and then dry them thoroughly. Children should be supervised when doing this as they are more at risk of serious disease.
“Visitors should be aware that using sanitising gels is not a substitute for washing hands as gels may fail to remove contamination in the way that soap and running water can. However using sanitising gels following handwashing with soap and water may provide extra benefit."
This article was published on Wed 20 April 2011
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