Children visiting farms during the holidays should be reminded to wash their hands to avoid cryptosporidium, a diarrhoeal bug.
Every year, Public Health England (PHE) sees an annual rise in diarrhoea cases caused by cryptosporidium.
It is most common in children aged between one and give. The peak in cases is partly associated with children handling animals and feeding lambs at petting farms and not washing their hands properly afterwards.
Parents of young children should be reminded that everyone visiting farms should wash their hands thoroughly using soap and water after they have handled animals, and before eating or drinking, to avoid unnecessary illness.
Between January and May 2013 there were eleven outbreaks of cryptosporidiosis associated with petting farms across England affecting around 150 people. Over the past 20 years, an average of around 80 cases* of cryptosporidium infection linked to visits to petting farms have been reported to PHE each year.
The symptoms of cryptosporidiosis are typically watery diarrhoea and stomach pains. There is no specific treatment for the illness which is usually self-limiting, although it is important that anyone with the illness keeps hydrated.
Cryptosporidium is a parasite that can be found in soil, water, food or on any surface that has been contaminated with human or animal faeces.
Dr Bob Adak, head of gastrointestinal diseases at PHE, said: “Around two million people visit farm attractions each year so the number of people who become ill is proportionally quite small. However, these cases of illness could be easily avoided by practicing good hand hygiene.
“Any contact with farm animals carries a risk of infection because of the microorganisms - or germs - they naturally carry which are invisible to the naked eye. People may be tempted to use hand gels and wipes during a farm visit and after touching animals but these are not suitable for removing the sort of germs found on farms and it is very important to remember not to rely on these for removing germs on the hands.
“By being aware and by doing these simple things we can help to avoid illness and enjoy a fun day out.”