The risk of cryptosporidium salmonella and E.coli on the smallholding
A smallholder can be very busy and multi-tasking is something you get used to. It is therefore very easy to forget to wear protection, gloves, or wash your hands properly. Especially at this time of year when it can be very muddy.
Your hands are permanently dirty from being outside, and can often have cuts or wounds from some mishap or other. Or you are bottle feeding young lambs or hatched chics, and people (especially children) want to come and see them. What is the risk in that?
The bacteria Escherichia coliand Salmonella and the protozoa Cryptosporidium are among the organisms that have the potential to cause serious disease that may be found in animal droppings and on contaminated surfaces around smallholdings.
What is cryptosporidium?
Cryptosporidium is a protozoan (single celled) parasite of human and animal importance, which if ingested, can cause an illness called cryptosporidiosis. It can be transmitted through contact with soil, food, water or surfaces that have been contaminated with infected human or animal faeces. The most common symptom is watery diarrhoea, which can range from mild to severe. Cryptosporidiosis is most common in children aged between one and five years, but it can affect anyone. People with weak immune systems are likely to be most seriously affected.
Over 45 different species of animals including poultry, fish, reptiles, small mammals (rodents, dogs, and cats) and large mammals (including cattle and sheep) can become infected with Crytposporidium parvum. The reservoir for this organism includes people, cattle, deer and many other species of animal.
Oocysts are shed in the faeces and can survive under very adverse environmental conditions. The oocysts are very resistant to disinfectants. People can re-infect themselves one or more times. Human infection may be acquired by four main routes: from other people, from animals and their faeces, from untreated drinking water contaminated by either agricultural or human sewage sources, and from swimming in contaminated water.
Cryptosporidiosis can be prevented by using good personal hygiene. Hands should be washed with soap after using bathroom facilities. Only clean or filtered water should be consumed, and food must be prepared properly.
“Individuals who work with animals should wear protective clothing, and washing hands after handling animals is essential.”
Farm animals at risk
A number of different Cryptosporidium species infect animals. In humans, illness is mainly caused by Cryptosporidium parvum and Cryptosporidium hominis. In animals, illness is mainly caused by Cryptosporidium parvum.
“Young farm animals can also suffer from Cryptosporidium diarrhoea.”
The disease in calves/lambs/kids
- One to four weeks old
- Diarrhoea, anorexia, and weight loss
- Often occurs with other diarrhoea-causing bacteria and/or viruses, or in animals that have a compromised immune system
- Re-infection can cause relapses, chronic infection and death
- Infected calves/lambs/kids pass the organism in their faecal material
Humans can become infected with Cryptosporidium parvum through exposure to young ruminants with diarrhoea. Take proper precautions when treating calves/lambs/kids with diarrhoea.
- Wear protective gloves
- Wash hands
- Clean the environment
What is E. coli?
Escherichia coli (E. coli) are common bacteria which live in the intestines of warm blooded animals. There are certain forms, or strains, of E.coli which are normally found in the intestine of healthy people and animals without causing any ill effects. A number of E. coli strains cause illness but E. coli O157 is associated with more serious illness. For the majority of people the infection is usually self limited and clears within seven days, but children under five are vulnerable to more severe illness. Symptoms can range from mild through to severe diarrhoea, to a serious condition called haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS) that affects the blood, kidneys and in severe cases, the central nervous system.
What is salmonella?
Salmonella is found in a range of food products, including meat, produce and eggs. Salmonellosis is an infection of animals and man caused by a group of bacteria called Salmonella. These can live in the digestive tract of a wide range of mammals including people and birds. Over 2,500 strains (serovars) of Salmonella are known most of which rarely cause disease. However certain strains, such as S.enteritidis and S.typhimurium, may cause human disease if, for example, foodstuffs become contaminated with animal faeces.
“Eggs from infected hens and milk from infected dairy herds may also contain salmonella.”
Infection may also follow contact with infected animals. It is usually fairly short-lived and often does not cause any obvious disease. However disease may occur with high temperature, diarrhoea and blood poisoning. In a few cases infected animals or people may carry certain strains of the bacteria for prolonged periods.
Cryptosporidiosis is highly infectious so proper sanitation and good hygiene practices are important measures in the prevention of cryptosporidiosis. Such measures include:
- washing hands thoroughly with soap (I prefer to use ant-bacterial) and warm water before eating or preparing food, after using the toilet, cleaning up after others with diarrhoea, after contact with domestic or farm animals
- washing or peeling raw fruit and vegetables thoroughly before eating
- avoiding unpasteurised milk and fruit juices
Sanitiser hand gels
Reliance on sanitiser hand gels instead of hand washing is not effective in killing bugs such as E. coli O157 or Cryptosporidium. Visitors should be made aware that using sanitising gels is not a substitute for washing hands with soap and hot water and drying them, as gels may fail to remove contamination in the way that soap and running water can. However it is likely that using sanitising gels following handwashing with soap and water may provide extra benefit.
“Hand washing is the single most important prevention step in reducing transmission of gastrointestinal infections after handling animals and it’s crucial that hand washing in young children should be supervised, especially after touching or petting animals or their surroundings on a visit to a smallholding. ”
There are five basic ways to manage diarrhoea and vomiting and prevent the spread of diseases:
- Careful hand washing is the most important prevention measure that you can take. Wash hands thoroughly with soap and warm water and dry afterwards. Do not share towels.
- Use gloves when handling soiled articles from ill people. Wash soiled clothing and bed linen on ‘hot cycle’.
- If looking after someone with gastroenteritis, carefully disinfect toilet seats, flush handles, wash-hand basin taps and toilet door handles daily and after use. Use a bleach-based household cleaner, diluted according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Maintain good personal hygiene and hygienic preparation and serving of food.
If you have gastroenteritis, don’t return to school or work until you have been symptom-free for 48 hours. Look what happened in the Archers. Don’t visit patients in local hospitals and long-term care facilities. While many people tend to feel better sooner, illness can still be spread if they return to work or school within 48 hours since the last symptom.
Other tips for a safe smallholding visit include:
- Don’t put hands on faces or fingers in mouths while petting animals or walking round the smallholding.
- Don’t kiss animals nor allow children to put their faces close to animals.
- Don’t eat or drink while touching animals or walking round the smallholding, including sweets, crisps or chewing gum.
- Don’t eat anything that has fallen on the floor.
- Only eat and drink in picnic or designated areas.
- Remove and clean boots or shoes that might have become dirty and clean push-chair wheels.
- A leaflet detailing advice for the public on avoiding infection on farm visits can be found on the HPA’s website
- The Health and Safety Executive’s guidance for those running and visiting petting farms can be found on the HSE’s website
- Information sheet