Doctors at Epsom hospital are warning parents to be aware of their children’s health when visiting petting zoos and farms this school holiday.

Senior microbiologist at Epsom and St Helier hospitals, Dr John Clark, said: “For many families, a visit to a farm is an ideal way to spend a summer’s day.

“However, farm animals can carry a number of infections that may be harmful to people, so it’s important that parents and guardians take simple steps to protect themselves and their children.

“That can include the bacterial infection E. coli O157, which can cause severe diarrhoea, nausea, fever and in rare cases, can be fatal. “E.coli is a particular health risk, especially for children under five, as they are more vulnerable to the infection and more likely to develop serious illness once infected.”

Cattle, sheep and goats are recognised carriers of E. coli O157, and the bacteria can spread quickly from the animal’s droppings and body and may be on the fences and surfaces around the farm.

Dr Clark added: “Touching animals, fences and other surfaces can lead to infection, as you may pick up these bacteria and accidentally pass them to your mouth.

“It only takes a small number of the bacteria to cause infection.

“By following some simple rules, you can significantly reduce the risk of picking up the infection and can enjoy your day outdoors without worry.”

To avoid infection take note of these top tips.

• Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water immediately after you have had contact with animals. Hand gels or wipes are not a substitute for washing your hands with running water.

• Do not put hands on faces or fingers in mouths while petting animals.

• Do not kiss farm animals nor allow children to put their faces close to animals.

• Do not eat or drink while touching animals or walking round the farm.

• Do not eat anything that has fallen on the floor.

• Do wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before eating or drinking.

• Remove and clean boots or shoes that might have become soiled and clean pushchair wheels, then wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.

If you or anyone in your group is sick or has diarrhoea within two weeks of visiting a farm, contact your GP or call NHS Direct on 0845 4647 as soon as possible.

If you or anyone in your group, particularly a young child, has bloody diarrhoea, seek immediate emergency medical attention.

For further information about E. coli O157 visit the Health Protection Agency’s website at