UK: Analysis: 'Be obsessive about handwashing' in E. coli aftermath
Posted: September 30th, 2009 - 2:58pm
Source: Nursery World
The Department of Health is considering issuing new guidelines on open farm visits for young children following an outbreak of E. coli infection that has been linked to four petting farms across the country.
Health experts called for the current guidelines to be revised after 79 cases of E. Coli O157 were traced to the Godstone Farm and Playbarn, a children's farm in Epsom, Surrey, which has closed while an investigation into the outbreak is carried out. At least 12 children have been hospitalised.
Officials have also closed the Horton Park Children's Farm in Epsom, Surrey, which has the same owners, after an environmental health inspection found its hygiene arrangements to be unsatisfactory.
Three petting farms in other areas, the World of Country Life, in Exmouth, Devon, the White Post Farm in Nottinghamshire and the Big Sheep and Little Cow farm in Bedale, North Yorkshire, have also closed as a precautionary measure after the Health Protection Agency found a potential link between the farms and a handful of local E. Coli cases.
Professor Hugh Pennington told Nursery World, 'E. Coli is a difficult bug to understand, because we are the only species that gets the disease. The risks of E. Coli are different for each age group and young children are more likely to develop complications, such as kidney failure.
'If a child gets infected there is no medicine that we can apply to alter how the infection moves - antibiotics actually increases the chance of complications. Very young children are not only more susceptible to E. Coli, but they are also more likely to touch animals and then put their hands in their mouths.'
He added, 'We need to look at how these children can be accommodated on farm visits. Perhaps farms could have areas where children can see the animals but can't touch them. As there is a greater risk for young children, it does make sense for the Government to consider publishing specific recommendations for the under-fives.'
Martin Cooper, owner of Coneygarth Farm Day Nursery, in Haxey, South Yorkshire, a setting that is based on the site of a commercial farm, said, 'Just a few months ago all the headlines were about swine flu, and nurseries and schools were going to have to close because of an epidemic. This month it's E. Coli.
'While I agree that we have got to protect children, and that young children are more at risk, I think that we also need to be careful not to overreact and protect children too much. I think we need to look at the issue sensibly and work out what the real risk of contracting E. Coli is.'