Dr Lorraine Doherty, Assistant Director of Public Health (Health Protection) 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.”
Dr Doherty continued: “The PHA recently launched the second phase of the Cleanyourhands campaign which emphasises the need for good hand hygiene. The simple step of hand washing can help prevent the spread of infection, which can be particularly harmful to young children.”
Parents are reminded about the importance of supervising hand washing among their children after they have been handling farm animals and particularly before eating. Anti bacterial 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.
Please visit the PHA website www.publichealth.hscni.net for guidelines on hand washing techniques.
Notes to the editor
– There are 50-60 cases of E. coli 0157 reported annually in Northern Ireland.
– 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 handwashing when visiting farms.
Contact PHA Press Office, Ormeau Avenue on 028 9031 1611.