Human cases of e. coli and crypto rise in Mecosta and Newaygo counties

Using good biosecurity practices when around farm animals can help protect yourself and others from any harmful germs

Cases of the bacteria E. coli and parasite cryptosporidium increased this summer in both Mecosta and Newaygo counties, according to district health department officials. Both of these germs are found in the intestinal tracts of humans and animals and are commonly spread by the feces that they produce.

“These increases are concerning because the resulting illness can be life-threatening,” said Dr. Jennifer Morse, medical director of three regional health departments (Central Michigan District Health Department, Mid-Michigan District Health Department, and District Health Department #10). “With the investigations that have been completed thus far, the major source seems to be coming from farm animals.”

About E. coli and cryptosporidium 

Escherichia coli, commonly called E. coli, is one of the most common bacteria on earth. It is normally found in the intestinal tracts of healthy humans and warm-blooded animals. Not all strains of E. coli are capable of causing illness. Many types of E. coli that can cause illness, however, are relatively harmless to the long-term health of infected humans but can cause diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting and a low-grade fever. One sub-group once referred to as E. coli 0157:H7, now known as Shiga-toxin producing E. coli, or STEC, is known to cause more severe human illness. STEC also causes diarrheal illness but can lead to kidney disease and can occasionally lead to death. 

Cryptosporidium is a parasite in humans and animals that causes watery diarrhea that can last a few days to a few weeks. Rarely, cryptosporidium infection can involve and lead to complications in the lungs, gallbladder and pancreas.

Transmission

Both of these germs are spread by feces from the infected animal, or host, to the unsuspecting animal or person through ingestion. The local cases this summer point toward the host being farm animals that infected humans that had contact with these animals. There is often an increase of these infections in summer as humans come in more direct and frequent contact with farm animals. This period is when contact between humans and animals is most frequent given seasonal events such as county fairs, petting zoos and farm tours. 

Transmission is not complete until the germ is ingested. These germs, when shed in feces, can survive in soil, water and other surfaces including concrete, wood, metal and human skin for long periods of time. The transmission can be as innocent as a child on a farm petting a baby calf with his/her hand and then eating with the same hand an hour later. 

Good Biosecurity Practices

This is why it is very important that people do not eat or drink in areas where animals are housed and always practice good hygiene by washing their hands after interaction with animals.

To keep everyone healthy, including the animals, while taking the opportunity to learn more about agriculture and have fun, it is important to practice the following, to make sure you are not exposing yourself or others to any harmful germs.

  • Help children avoid kissing or hugging animals.
  • Do not eat, drink or smoke in or around areas where animals are housed.
  • Keep sippy cups, small toys and pacifiers secured and put away in animal areas; they often end up on the ground and then back in the mouth of the child.
  • Do not take baby strollers into animal housing areas. This will prevent the wheels from becoming contaminated and then spreading the contamination to the car or buildings at home.
  • Upon exiting animal housing areas, utilize provided hand washing stations. If available, wash with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are not as effective as soap and water but are also acceptable.
  • When you return to your home wash all clothing with hot soapy water and clean the bottoms of footwear with soapy water if necessary.

Additionally, it’s important that farmers and fair exhibitors keep pens clean and bedded on a regular basis to help reduce the build up of harmful germs. Signage can also be posted at fairs and farms to help remind visitors to wash their hands and not eat in barns.

The immune systems of young children are still developing and may be more severely impacted by these germs. Also, the elderly or anyone recovering from a disease or illness may have a weaker immune system and be more prone to suffering the impact of these germs. Extra care and attention must be given anytime these individuals come in contact with animals, be it at a farm, fair, petting zoo or other events.

Michigan State University Extension and Michigan 4-H have teamed with industry partners to develop several resources about good biosecurity practices and zoonotic disease. You can find educational publications and helpful signs at http://msue.anr.msu.edu/resources/zoonotic_disease.

For more human health information regarding this issue contact your local public health department by calling 231-876-3823 or emailing .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). For agricultural health issues pertaining to this matter contact Jerry Lindquist, MSU Extension at 231-832-6139 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).   

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