How to keep your child safe from bugs

Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online

Even the cleanest farms in Britain are crawling with bacteria. Fortunately most of these bacteria are harmless to humans and animals, but a few, including salmonella and E. coli, have the potential to cause illness in people who come in contact with them.

Even the cleanest farms in Britain are crawling with bacteria. Fortunately most of these bacteria are harmless to humans and animals, but a few, including salmonella and E. coli, have the potential to cause illness in people who come in contact with them.

Newspaper headlines tend to concentrate on outbreaks in which people die or need hospital care, but nearly all cases of these infections cause relatively minor stomach upsets. The commonest symptoms are abdominal pains, diarrhoea, vomiting and fever.

There are no accurate statistics on the number of infections that have been acquired on farms or from contact with animals, but experts in agriculture and food science agree that eating infected food, not visiting farms, is the commonest way of catching salmonella and E. coli.

For this reason, information campaigns on salmonella and E. coli tend to have concentrated on food hygiene, such as taking care to cook poultry thoroughly and not contaminating cooked with raw food.

It is never going to be possible to provide a sterile environment on farms, so the best way of preventing infections is by taking simple precautions. Children are most likely to get bacteria on their hands if they handle animals or come into contact with animal droppings. But they will not become infected unless they transfer the bacteria from their hands to their mouths.

Children should wash their hands thoroughly immediately after visiting farms and particularly after touching animals. They should be careful not to let their faces come into contact with animals. The greatest risk is from touching an animal and then transferring bacteria from the hands.

Small children - particularly those under five years - rarely manage to keep their fingers out of their mouths for more than 30 minutes, so the faster their hands are washed, the better. Eating and drinking while visiting a farm greatly increases the risk of transferring infection from hand to mouth, and hand-washing is essential before eating or drinking. Bacteria can also be carried home on shoes, so it is important to clean them after visiting a farm.

According to the National Association of Farms for Schools, 14 million people visited farms in Britain last year. No one knows exactly how many were made ill by their visits, but it should be possible to reduce the risks to an absolute minimum by taking the simple precautions of hand-washing as soon as possible after leaving the farmyard.

Farmers have the duty to provide washing facilities, but parents and teachers must make sure children use them.

Comments