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Dear Daisy Dog

Our church is staging a live Christmas nativity, complete with my pharaoh hound and other parishioners’ cows, llamas, sheep and goats. We’re inviting visitors to pet the animals and talk with us about the first Christmas. What precautions should we take to protect people from diseases caused by E. coli, Salmonella and other pathogens the animals might carry?

Daisy Responds

Live nativities, petting zoos and fairs are excellent ways to educate people and encourage compassion for animals.

However, contact with livestock can transmit zoonoses, diseases shared by humans and other animals. At greatest risk are children under five, pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems.

On average, four outbreaks are reported each year.

To minimize the chance of disease transmission, include only healthy animals in your nativity. Even apparently healthy animals can shed pathogens, so follow these additional guidelines:

Don’t serve food or beverages. Prohibit such hand-to-mouth activities as eating, drinking, smoking, bottle-feeding and pacifier use. Don’t let children carry toys into the area.

Require visitors to clean their hands with sanitizing gel or, preferably, soap and water as they leave the animal area.

Remove manure frequently, and keep contact surfaces and traffic areas clean.

Post information about the potential risk of disease transmission and how to prevent it. Make sure your insurance carrier knows about the live nativity.

For more information, go to and search “petting zoos.”

Visitors who follow these hygiene guidelines will enjoy a wonderful, worry-free holiday experience.


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