The Public Health Agency (PHA) are reminding parents about the importance of supervising hand washing among their children after visiting an open farm and handling farm animals, over the summer holidays.
Antibacterial gels and wipes are not a substitute for washing hands with soap and water, as gels/wipes may be unable to remove contamination in the way that running water can. However, using such gels after hand washing with soap and water may further reduce the risk of picking up these infections.
Dr Lorraine Doherty, Assistant Director of Public Health (Health Protection), PHA, said: “Farm animals often carry a range of organisms which can be passed to children and adults. These organisms can include serious infections such as E. coli 0157 which is extremely infectious and easily passed from animals to children and then within the household. Hand washing with soap and water will reduce the risk of picking up these infections, which can be particularly harmful to young children.”
Dr Doherty continued: "By being aware and by doing these simple things we can help to avoid illness and enjoy a fun day out.”
Please visit the PHA website www.publichealth.hscni.net for guidelines on hand washing techniques.
Contact PHA Press Office on 028 9031 1611
Notes to the editor
- There are 50–60 cases of E. coli 0157 reported annually in Northern Ireland.
- There have been no reported deaths from E. coli 0157 in Northern Ireland in recent years.
- People are infected with E. coli 0157 through consuming contaminated food or drink, handling contaminated animals or by contact with an environment contaminated with animal faeces.
- E. coli 0157 is very infectious, with only a few organisms capable of causing illness. The organisms produce toxins which damage the lining of the gut and cause bloody diarrhoea, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting. The toxins can also damage the kidneys causing renal failure.
- In 2008, of the non outbreak cases of E. coli 0157 in Northern Ireland, nearly half had visited a farm just before their illness.
- In 2009 there was a major outbreak of E. coli 0157 associated with an open farm in Surrey involving 93 cases. This was the subject of an independent investigation which reported earlier this month – see http://www.griffininvestigation.org.uk/default.htm. Included among its many recommendations was the importance of thorough hand washing when visiting farms.