Will Your State Fair Make You Sick?

Two years into the pandemic, everyone is keenly aware of germs, and many of us are still being vigilant about avoiding precarious situations. Yet, you might be surprised to learn that a germ that has nothing to do with COVID-19 has for years been making people sick in a place they willingly visit: the state or county fair. That germ is E. coli.

The fair season is just getting underway, and that means animals will be hauled from city to city and state to state to provide fairgoers with “entertainment,” including the ubiquitous petting zoo. Yes, that seemingly innocuous fair and carnival attraction can put people’s health at serious risk.

E. coli infection is far from a rare occurrence. All around the country, numerous people—mostly children—have been made ill by this potentially deadly pathogen after visiting a petting zoo. E. coli can spread through direct contact with animals, by inhaling or ingesting it (such as when children suck their thumb or a pacifier), or by coming into contact with something an infected animal has touched. The bacteria have been linked to everything from sawdust to sippy cups. Many children with E. coli infections have suffered acute kidney failure requiring long-term dialysis, transfusions and even kidney transplants.

Some children have lost their lives after visiting petting zoos, including a 2-year-old California girl who died after suffering a stroke caused by hemolytic uremic syndrome and a 1-year-old Maine boy who died after suffering massive brain seizures. There are, shockingly, additional fatalities at the local petting zoo. In March, a stressed camel at a Tennessee petting zoo attacked and killed two bystanders.

It’s not only petting zoos that put fairgoers at risk. Why would any parent trust a transient carnival worker to keep a child safe on a cranky camel or a 5-ton elephant? There’s no stopping an animal who gets spooked or who has simply reached the breaking point. While giving rides at the New York State fair, an elephant panicked, injuring a 3-year-old girl and knocking down and stepping on the handler. A handler at a Maryland fair was airlifted to the hospital after a camel who was being used for rides knocked him to the ground and stomped on him.

Even animal displays aren’t safe—at a New York fair, a 4-year-old boy was clawed by a tiger, and a teenager was also attacked by a tiger at a Florida fair.

No one attends the state or county fair expecting to come home with a debilitating or even life-threatening injury or illness. For the sake of your little ones as well as of the animals who are exploited at these fairs, the safest course of action is to avoid all interactions with animals. Your kids and the animals will both be better off.

Tell Festivals and Fairs to Leave Wild Animals Alone