Melissa Magstadt, South Dakota Secretary of Health

Preventing Illness Associated with Animal Contact

Child petting a goat at a petting zoo.Petting zoos and fairs give people of all ages the exciting opportunity to interact with animals face-to-face. This allows people to learn more about animals but it can also put people at risk of becoming ill from these animals.

All animals, animal environments (fences, buckets, gates, etc.), or animal products are potentially contaminated with pathogens. Even healthy animals can carry germs that make people sick and should be treated as such. Common pathogens include Campylobacteriosis, Salmonellosis, and Shiga toxin-producing E. coli. Baby animals are especially likely to have these germs because they haven't had a chance to become immune to them.

How can I reduce my risk of getting sick from animals at a petting zoo or fair?

  • Wash your hands with soap and running water for at least 20 seconds upon exiting animal areas even if you did not touch an animal. All animals can carry germs that make people sick. Download posters here.
  • If no running water and soap is available, hand sanitizer may be used until you are able to wash your hands.
  • Don't touch your mouth.
  • Wash your hands before you eat, drink, smoke, or chew (tobacco, gum, etc.).
  • Keep food, drinks, baby bottles, pacifiers, and toys out of animal areas.
  • Park strollers outside of animal areas.
  • Children younger than 5 years old should be supervised while interacting with the animals and during hand washing. Young children are more likely to get sick because they often touch surfaces contaminated with animal feces and are more likely to put their hands in their mouths.

Who is at risk?

Infections can occur in people of all ages, however three groups of individuals are at highest risk:

  1. Young children (<5 years old)
  2. People 65 years and older
  3. Immunocompromised individuals

Symptoms of Infection

The most common symptoms are diarrhea and abdominal pain. Other symptoms may include vomiting, fever, cramps, and bloody diarrhea. People with mild symptoms usually recover without treatment. However, these illnesses can lead to hospitalizations and severe complications also can occur.

South Dakota Data

A high percentage of diarrheal illnesses in South Dakota from 2013-2017 had animal exposure.

Disease Cases Percent Animal Contact
Campylobacteriosis 1,794 71.7%
Salmonellosis 1,108 51.1%
Shiga toxin-producing E. coli 320 67.5%


Animal exposure prior to diarrheal illness was most common among 5-14 year olds for Campylobacteriosis, and infants under one year of age for Salmonellosis and Shiga toxin-producing E. coli.


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