Each year in the US an estimated 6 million people visit petting zoos, and the number is increasing. Outbreaks in humans associated with animal pathogens are being increasingly reported. There are many published recommendations for design and maintenance for these facilities. Hand washing is recommended to prevent zoonotic pathogen transmission in these settings. The published literature lacks data on prevalence of overall hand hygiene (soap and water, water, alcohol sanitizer) and proper hand washing (using soap and
water greater than 20 seconds) in petting zoos. In addition, at this time, there are no published data about demographic or environmental characteristics associated with hand hygiene in petting zoos. The following study was designed to explore these issues.
This was an observational study conducted at the Trillium Family Farm exhibit of the Oregon Zoo in Portland, OR. Subjects were systematically selected and observed by trained zoo volunteers. Data collected included demographic characteristics such as age, gender, and time spent in the exhibit, as well as environmental factors, such as availability of hygiene supplies and precipitation.
Over the course of the study, 334 subjects were observed. Of these, 218 subjects visited the petting zoo longer than one minute and touched an animal or an object on display. Of those, 49% (107/218) used any type of hand hygiene (soap, and/or water, and or alcohol-based sanitizer), and 19% (42/218) washed their hands with soap and water for greater than 20 seconds (proper hand washing). However, this estimate is actually an upper bound for the proportion of people who properly washed. Many of those that washed properly during the first hygiene event did not rewash properly. In addition, one visitor did not wash properly the first time, but did with the second wash. Overall, 8.3% (18/218) of visitors washed their hands properly prior to leaving the exhibit after touching an animal or object. Of all of the variables explored, age (crude odds ratios [OR] 0.57 [p=0.12], 0.31[p=0.003] and 0.47 [p=0.04] for age groups 5-10 years, 11-28 years, and 28+ years respectively, all versus the 0-4 year old age group), time spent in the exhibit (crude OR: 1.12, [p<0.001]) and presence of Zoo Teen volunteers in the petting zoo [crude OR: 3.3, p=0.004] were significantly associated with engaging in any hand hygiene behavior. Each of the previous associations was strengthened when entered together in a logistic regression model. Only time spent in the exhibit [crude OR: 1.10, p<0.001] was significantly associated with proper hand washing. The variable time spent was also found to be more strongly associated with the presence of Zoo Teen volunteers and age was added to the proper hand washing model for comparison. Based on the results of our study, we designed recommendations to increase proper hand washing in petting zoo attendees. Recommendations include separating animal from non-animal areas, targeted and increased signage, and increased awareness of proper hand washing, as strategies to prevent disease transmission.