Farms are great places for kids to grow up – but farm animals can pass some nasty bugs on to them

The yard can be a wonderful place for children to grow up, surrounded by open spaces, trees, rivers, streams and animals. There’s a lot to be said for rural life – but there are a few nasty bugs to watch out for.

It is sometimes difficult to tell if an animal is infected with such bugs, especially when they look clean and healthy.

The infection can be picked up from the animal’s body, its feces, or areas where an animal has recently been.

If the bugs are on your hands, you could accidentally bring them to your mouth.

The HSE’s Health Protection Surveillance Center (HPSC) issued an alert on April 20 after a sharp rise in potentially serious belly bugs in children.

Since early March, the number of cryptosporidiosis cases has more than doubled compared to average rates, particularly among young children, said HPSC public health medicine specialist Dr. Paul McKeown.


Symptoms of cryptosporidiosis generally begin a week after swallowing the bug, but can begin after a few days.

Symptoms last about a week but can last longer.

The most common symptom is watery diarrhea, but it can be accompanied by vomiting, fever, and stomach cramps.

Verotoxigenic Escherichia coli (or VTEC) are bacteria that also live in the intestines of animals – mainly cattle and sheep – and can cause either relatively mild or severe gastroenteritis in humans.

VTEC bugs produce a toxin (called verotoxin) that can cause bloody diarrhea and, in some individuals, a serious complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). This occurs in 5 to 10 percent of VTEC cases.

When HUS develops, it generally happens about a week after the onset of diarrhea (occasionally patients do not have diarrhea).

Symptoms of HUS can be very non-specific and may include fatigue, drowsiness, extensive bruising, unusual bleeding, swollen hands/feet/face, or poor urination.

How are people infected?

These bugs can be spread through direct contact with infected animals on a farm, such as calves and lambs. It is also sometimes seen after children have handled these animals at an animal farm.

It can be soil infected with farm manure, which can then be sprinkled on shoes, clothing or unwashed fruits and vegetables, or toys played with outdoors.


Washing hands after handling livestock or products is the most important way to avoid infection from a range of bacteria. Photo: Dan Comaniciu

Water can become contaminated, especially private wells, if animal manure enters it.

Raw meat or undercooked meat can be contaminated and cause disease if the meat is not stored properly and cooked thoroughly. Unpasteurized milk or cheese can also be a source of infection.

Infected people can spread infection to others if they don’t wash their hands properly after using the toilet. Infection can also spread when people don’t wash their hands after changing a sick child’s diaper.

prevention of spread

Again, the most important message to prevent spread is to wash hands thoroughly with soap and water before eating or drinking, after using the toilet, after changing diapers, and after washing soiled bedding or clothing.

Avoid changing diapers near places where food is being prepared or eaten, and avoid touching or preparing food for other people if possible. Make sure everyone has their own towel. General hygiene should be more vigilant than usual by cleaning toilet seats, flush handles, door handles and faucets frequently.

How long after infection can I go back to work or school?

Most people can return to work or school 48 hours after their last episode of diarrhea.

At VTEC there are restrictions for certain groups of people who work in childcare, healthcare or handling food. You may be ordered by public health to stay home from work until stool samples are free of infection. This also applies to young children with VTEC who attend childcare facilities, as there is a risk of transmission to vulnerable people in these facilities.

Children infected with cryptosporidiosis should avoid swimming pools for up to two weeks after the diarrhea has stopped.

How can I avoid contagion?

The message is to wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after touching animals, fences or other surfaces in animal areas.

Remove and clean any dirty boots and clean the stroller wheels. Then wash your hands.

Toddlers who crawl and put their mouths on everything they come in contact with are particularly vulnerable to bugs that have been walked or rolled from the yard.

Supervise children when visiting farms or pet farms, and only eat and drink at picnic areas or coffee shops. Don’t put hands on faces or fingers in mouth while petting animals or walking around the yard. Don’t kiss animals and don’t let children put their faces near animals.

Avoid using gels or wipes instead of washing hands with soap and water.

Raw, unpasteurized milk can carry many harmful infectious diseases — including cryptosporidiosis and VTEC. If you have your own well, make sure the water is safe.

Farms are great places for kids – but there are nasty bugs that need to be avoided.

dr Catherine Conlon is Senior Medical Officer in the Department of Public Health at St Finbarr’s Hospital, Cork and former Director of Human Health and Nutrition at Safefood. Her book Modern Culture and Wellbeing was published by Veritas in 2020 Farms are great places for kids to grow up – but farm animals can pass some nasty bugs on to them

Fry Electronics Team

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