The Smithsonian’s National Zoo has temporarily closed the Kids’ Farm exhibit because E. coli bacteria were discovered in a few of the animals. The animals are now being managed under quarantine protocols.
To the Zoo’s credit, I am not aware of any other exhibit like this that monitors animals’ stool.
Zoo veterinarians detected the original presence of the E. coli bacteria in the goats through a routine fecal screening process February 18. The goats were moved into the barn and managed separately from the other animals and visitors. Individual fecal cultures were performed February 22. Last Friday, February 26, results revealed that four goats and one cow were positive. Based on these results, the Kids’ Farm was immediately quarantined and staff started appropriate protective measures, including treating all the farm animals with antibiotics. The animal care team is consulting with experts from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and the D.C. Department of Health.
The team will monitor all the animals extremely closely, continue weekly fecal testing and provide the usual high-quality care during this quarantine period. When Zoo veterinarians receive three consecutive weeks of negative test results, the team will start the planning for lifting the quarantine and reopening the Kids’ Farm.
A 2003 study on the prevalence of E. coli O157:H7 in livestock at 29 county and 3 large state agricultural fairs in the United States found that E. coli O157:H7 could be isolated from 13.8 percent of beef cattle, 5.9 percent of dairy cattle, 3.6 percent of pigs, 5.2 percent of sheep, and 2.8 percent of goats. Over seven percent of pest fly pools also tested positive for E. coli O157:H7 (Keene et al, 2003).
According to the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians’ “Compendium of Measures to Prevent Disease Associated with Animals in Public Settings, 2013”:
The primary mode of transmission for enteric pathogens [like E. coli O157:H7] is fecal-oral. Because animal fur, hair, feathers, scales, skin and saliva harbor fecal organisms, transmission can occur when persons pet, touch, feed or are licked by animals. Transmission also has been associated with exposure to contaminated animal bedding, flooring, barriers, other environmental surfaces, and contaminated clothing and shoes. In addition, illness has resulted from fecal contamination of food, including raw milk and drinking water.