Department of Health

Key messages

  • Infectious diseases, such as gastroenteritis, can be spread from animals to humans.
  • When visiting zoos, farms and other animal exhibits, care must be taken to prevent the spread of infection.
  • Operators need to make sure options for handwashing are readily available so people can wash their hands often.
  • Vulnerable people should take extra care when in contact with animals.

Various infectious diseases may be spread from animals to humans. Thus, farms, zoos and exhibits where patrons may interact with animals are at risk for spreading diseases to people.

Diseases transmitted from animals include:

  • gastroenteritis due to bacteria such as Salmonella or Campylobacter, or parasites such as Cryptosporidium
  • haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS) – caused by strains of E. coli bacteria – is rare, but possible. HUS is a serious disease.

Although encounters with animals don’t usually result in illness, care must be taken to reduce the spread of pathogens (microorganisms that cause illness) from animals to patrons.

Operators are responsible for providing patrons with information and facilities to reduce the risk of infection from animals. They must train staff to safely manage interactions of humans with animals.

Infections spread from humans to animals

Animals carry microorganisms, bacteria and/or parasites in their bowels that can cause human disease, even if the animal does not seem sick. The animals and their environment may be contaminated with pathogens.

These bacteria or parasites can be spread by putting the fingers to your mouth after touching animals, enclosures or equipment, or by eating, drinking or smoking with dirty hands.

Most microorganisms take several days to multiply. Therefore, symptoms of gastroenteritis, such as diarrhoea, vomiting and abdominal pain, may not be seen until a few days after touching animals.

Preventing infection from animals


If at a zoo, farm or animal exhibit, patrons should wash their hands:

  • after leaving an animal enclosure
  • before eating, drinking or smoking
  • after removing footwear or soiled clothing.
  • portable wash basins with running water, soap and paper towels
  • 70 per cent alcohol-based hand rubs (gels) or alcohol-based wipes.

Hands should be washed thoroughly for at least 15–20 seconds. Children must be supervised while washing their hands.

The operator should provide sufficient on-site handwashing facilities with running water, soap and disposable towels. The operator should display signs encouraging patrons to wash their hands and signs that direct patrons to handwashing facilities.

For mobile farms that do not have permanent handwashing facilities, options include:

Be sure to have somewhere to dispose of hand wipes or paper towels.

People visiting farms may wish to carry 70 per cent alcohol-based hand rubs (gels) or disposable hand wipes with them as an additional precaution.

Eating and drinking facilities

Eating, drinking or smoking should be in an area separate to animal-contact areas. Provide and use separate areas for preparing and consuming food and drink.

Do not serve raw milk to patrons.

Children supervision

Children must be closely supervised when with the animals. Children should not put their fingers to their mouths while in the animal enclosure or before washing their hands.

Dummies and toys should not be allowed in animal enclosures. Dummies or toys that fall on the ground must be washed thoroughly before they are returned to children.

Groups vulnerable to infection from animals

Vulnerable people are more likely to have serious effects if they get an infectious disease, including from animals. Vulnerable people include:

  • young children
  • pregnant women
  • older people
  • people with impaired immune systems.

Vulnerable people and their carers should weigh the benefits of animal contact against the risk. If they do wish to have contact with animals, they should be especially careful with personal hygiene to reduce the chances of acquiring an infection.

Reviewed 08 October 2015


Contact details

Do not email patient notifications.

Communicable Disease Section Department of Health GPO Box 4057, Melbourne, VIC 3000

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