East Bay

Illnesses prompt DEM to quarantine Middletown petting zoo

MIDDLETOWN, R.I. (WPRI) — The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) confirms it has issued a quarantine order for the animals at Simmons Farm after three people became infected with a diarrheal disease following their visit.

The DEM said the agency, along with the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH), is trying to determine if there is a connection between the petting zoo at the farm and those who have fallen ill with a cryptosporidiosis-associated diarrheal disease.

The DEM said Simmons Farm, located on West Main Road in Middletown, had two "pet and cuddle" events on March 21 and March 25. The agency said two adults and one child - who were all diagnosed with the illness soon after the event - reported having contact with the farm's goats.

The DEM said Cryptosporidiosis is spread through contact with the feces of an infected person or animal, typically when people touch their mouths with contaminated hands. The symptoms of the illness usually begin two to 10 days after the initial infection.

The symptoms of this illness include watery diarrhea with abdominal pain and cramping, which can be accompanied by dehydration, weight loss, fever, nausea, and vomiting. Medication is usually used to treat this illness, and most people usually recover within two weeks.

DEM is urging anyone who has visited Simmons Farm within the last month to monitor themselves for potential symptoms.

DEM said the quarantine was put in place for all livestock on the farm, meaning they must be kept away from the public until the order has been lifted.

“One of the inherent risks of a petting zoo is exposure to pathogens,” State Veterinarian Scott Marshall, who issued the quarantine, said. “Farmers and the public share the responsibility of limiting those risks."

To prevent the spread of pathogens while at a petting zoo, the DEM said people should:

  • Wash their hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds after contacting livestock, before preparing or eating food, after using the toilet or after changing diapers.
  • Avoid allowing clothing to be contaminated with feces and wash any clothing that is contaminated.
  • Make sure that only healthy animals are in contact with the public.
  • Keep animals in sanitary environments.
  • Make hand-washing stations available for patrons.
  • Avoid eating in areas where animals are kept.

The DEM said the farm owners have voluntarily closed the petting zoo, along with their farm stand:

"In regards to the press release by DEM that was released the afternoon of Monday, April 16 stating that Simmons Farm has been quarantined, we voluntarily closed our petting zoo and farm stand on Friday evening at 6 p.m. to ensure the safety of the public, the health and well being of our customers is of upmost concern to us. We are working with the RI health department and the state vet to identify the cause of the problem, ways to remedy the situation and prevent it from happening again. We will remain closed for an undetermined amount of time, until we receive an all clear from the RI health department."

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