Zoonotic Outbreaks: San Diego Petting Zoo E. coli Outbreak Turns Deadly

The Growing Dangers of Zoonotic –Zoonosis Pathogens: Recent San Diego Petting Zoo E. coli Outbreak Takes the Life of One Young Hero

Two terms that have entered the English daily lexicon of late include “Zoonotic” and “Zoonosis.”  Both terms relate to the spread of diseases between the human and animal kingdoms – a topic that at first glance may seem a bit academic to the general public.  But they only seem academic until they become epidemic – think of the Black Plague that killed as many as 30 to 60% of the population of some European nations, or a total of between 20 and 200 million people or the more recent outbreaks of Ebola have been traced to either primates or bats.  And most recently, a young child was killed (and others seriously sickened) after contracting  

E. coli from a petting zoo in San Diego


Unfortunately, zoonotic episodes have been on the rise in both numbers and intensity, with viral outbreaks,

bacterial outbreaks

, fungal outbreaks, or parasitic outbreaks happening every year.  Recent outbreaks, that have been reported on  a great deal, include the more common-place outbreaks of pathogens like a

salmonella outbreak linked to pet turtles

, a

salmonella outbreak linked to backyard chicks


salmonella outbreak

linked to other small animals,

E. coli outbreaks linked to petting zoo

s, or common household pets like dogs and cats.  There are also more and more cases of transfers of potentially deadly pathogens such as Bovine Spongiform Encephalitis (commonly referred to as “BSE”), avian influenza, the Nipah virus, brucellosis, ebola, rabies (often carried by bats, dogs, and other animals), and parasitic diseases which can include cysticercosis/taeniasis or echinococcosis/hydatidosis.

Some outbreaks cause minor injury, while others have proven fatal or life-changing, such as when an

E. coli illness

results in

Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome


The reality is that zoonotic diseases infect tens of thousands of victims in the U.S. alone every year. And the number is growing with deforestation, increases in the human populations, decreases in animal habitat, global warming, domestication and trade in wild animals, and changes in cultural and food habits among humans.  According to the CDC as many as 11 of the most recent 12 outbreaks of infectious disease that posed serious human health consequences may have originated in animals.

Common carriers include, but are no way limited to, the following: 

Those most at risk include, rather obviously, farmers, those who raise and care for animals, veterinarians, and knackery workers. But increasingly, due to the commercialization of small pets including chicks, salamanders, turtles, pigs, Guinea pigs, hamsters, mice, snakes, and the prevalence of petting zoos, more an d more people (including minors) are being exposed to these disease and

becoming ill from handing these animals


How to Prevent the Spread of Zoonotic Disease:

Preventing the spread of Zoonotic disease requires insight into how they are spread.  According to scientists who study Zoonotic diseases, there are four major pathways to the spread of these communicable diseases.  These include: Direct contact (this can include sheering sheep or petting a sick animal); Indirect contact (this can include contact with feces, water in which animals have been swimming, or contaminate surfaces); Vector-borne (these include conduits such as fleas, mosquitos, or ticks who deliver the pathogen); and Foodborne (this includes eating animal products or food contaminated with animal product).

Each of these paths to communicable disease can be reduced through affirmative action, such as practicing good personal hygiene.  This may include carefully monitoring children at a petting zoos and making them thoroughly wash or sanitize their hands after petting animals – this is one step that might have helped prevent the tragic death of a child after petting animals in a petting zoo in San Diego and contracting E. coli.   Treatment of scratches, wounds or bites is another way to prevent the spread of these communicable disease.  This can include treating with Bactrim or alcohol.  The use of barriers, such as aprons, vests, mouth covers, or gloves can also reduce the spread of zoonotic infectious disease.  Proper cleaning of work spaces, animal and food preparation sites can also help reduce zoonotic episodes – another practice that might have prevented the

deadly San Diego Petting Zoo tragedy

.  Vector-borne outbreaks can be reduced by proper pest control measures, like preventing fleas, mosquitos, etc. from reproducing or spreading in areas where animals are kept.

For more information about food borne outbreaks, to discuss zoonotic outbreaks or to speak to a food poisoning lawyer, call 11-888-335-4901.,


Leroy, Eric M. et al. “

Human Ebola Outbreak Resulting from Direct Exposure to Fruit Bats in Luebo, Democratic Republic of Congo, 2007

.” Vector Borne and Zoonotic Diseases 9.6 (2009): 723-28.

Allela, Loïs, et al. “

Ebola Virus Antibody Prevalence in Dogs and Human Risk.


Emerg Infect Dis 

11.3 (2005): 385-90. “The zoonotic threat: Curbing pet-to-people infections.” Dog World October 1999.

“Zoonoses.” Agricultural Research February 2000.

“Zoonotic Diseases.” Medical Laboratory Observer March 2004: 12.

Bermejo, M., et al. “

Ebola Outbreak Killed 5000 Gorillas



314.5805 (2006): 1564

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