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Minimising risks to farm visitors from animal bacteria

HSE InfoLine : 07 April, 2004  (New Product)
With summer on the way, the Health & Safety Executive is reminding farmers and others responsible for farmland which may be used for recreation, about the risk to visitors of ill health from organisms living in the guts of animals.
Graeme Walker, from HSE's agricultural sector, said: 'All animal faeces contain infectious organisms, but our main concern is E coli O157 which has been the source of serious ill health in a number of investigated incidents. People walking or cycling in the countryside are at little risk from E coli O157. However risk increases when people eat and drink, during picnicking or camping, without first washing their hands.'

E coli O157 is a bacterium that can be carried and excreted by cattle, sheep, deer and goats. Although the animals do not become ill, they can spread the organism to people by direct contact, and indirectly when faeces and manure are spread on farmland. Even very small amounts of E coli O157 can pose a severe risk, particularly for young children and elderly people.

In helping to reduce the risk HSE advises that, where possible, fields used for grazing or stockholding of animals should not be used for camping, picnicking, or play areas. If fields which have been used for grazing or stockholding animals are to be used for recreational purposes, the advice is as follows:

keep animals off the fields for the three weeks prior to use and during it;

remove visible dung - preferably at the beginning of the three week period;

mow the grass - keep it short and remove the clippings before use;

inform leaders of recreational/leisure groups (e.g. scouts, guides etc.) of the need for good hygiene practice (hand washing) and to treat drinking or personal washing water taken from streams; provide adequate washing facilities at organised recreational events such as car boot sales, fetes, shows etc.
Mr Walker concluded: 'Following these precautions will not only reduce the risk from E coli O157, but also of other diseases that can be transmitted to people from animals. The message to everyone is keep contamination to a minimum, wash your hands thoroughly before eating or drinking and check that water is safe to drink.'

Advice on protecting visitors against infections from animals at open farms can be found on the HSE website, in the form of a short video, at:

Advice can also be found in HSE Agriculture Information Sheet 23, 'Avoiding ill-health at open farms, advice to farmers', which can be ordered free of charge at: or is available from HSE Books, PO Box 1999, Sudbury, Suffolk, CO10 2WA, tel: 01787-881165 or fax: 01787-313995). The publication is also available at HSE's website:
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