Sidmouth Donkey Sanctuary open as usual after UK E-coli scare

IT IS business as usual at Sidmouth Donkey Sanctuary after an E-coli scare temporarily closed petting areas and a deer train ride at Exmouth s World of Country Life on Friday.

IT IS business as usual at Sidmouth Donkey Sanctuary after an E-coli scare temporarily closed petting areas and a deer train ride at Exmouth's World of Country Life on Friday.

Tests were carried out there this week to see if three E-coli cases are linked to it. They follow 57 cases connected to a petting farm in Surrey.

Chief executive David Cook said the sanctuary always had signs warning the public to wash their hands after touching donkeys, and, since the Swine flu outbreak, seven hand gel containers have been sited at the visitor centre and other public areas.

No outside activities, such as donkeys visiting schools, have been stopped.

Mr Cook said: "We are not doing anything different to what we do anyway. Everyone is always aware that E-coli and salmonella are two transmittable diseases and we do our upmost to minimise it.

"It is our policy to always be as clean as possible."

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He said its 400 donkeys at both the Sidmouth farms were regularly tested for both diseases and with vets on site immediately isolated any unwell donkeys to avoid others being infected.

"Donkeys' stables and yards are regularly mucked out, swept and disinfected.

"Where public can enjoy close contact with our donkeys and enter their yard, droppings are picked up as soon as possible by staff.

"We pride ourselves as having as clean an environment as possible, but there is no absolute guarantee.

"The reality is that any dog or human or other animal that comes on site could be carrying the infection at the time.

"We all encourage people to be as hygienic as possible and ask them to please wash their hands if they eat or drink after touching donkeys."

Staff at all its farms, EST centres and training centres received guidance after the Surrey outbreak to advise visitors to use handwashing facilities and tell them of procedures in place to keep E-coli at bay.

For children under five Mr Cook added: "Really the guardian of these children should be watching out and it is up to them to wash their hands before eating.

East Devon District Council has worked with the Health Protection Agency to ensure public health is protected after the Exmouth scare and says the temporary closure there was "very much a precautionary measure."

While Environmental Health experts worked with visitor attractions to improve hygiene, an EDDC spokesman said recent outbreaks highlighted the disease and the need for parents to protect children from it.

He said: "The best advice for parents is to ensure that children wash their hands thoroughly every time they come into contact with animals, or may have been in close proximity to animal shelters, or even agricultural water troughs.

"This particular form of EColi can be picked up from many sources, not just farms and animal parks."

*As a precaution, the Donkey Sanctuary was closed during the 2003 Foot and Mouth scare, even though donkeys cannot catch it.