The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) announced on Monday, April 16th that they have issued a quarantine order for animals at Simmons Farm in Middletown. DEM and the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) are investigating the connection between the petting zoo at the farm and cases of cryptosporidiosis-associated diarrheal disease.
Located at 1942 West Main Road, Simmons Farm is a 120-acre family Farm in Middletown that specializes in growing traditional and heirloom produce for their Farm Stand, farmer’s markets, wholesale accounts and their own Community Supported Agriculture Program (CSA). Simmons Farm had a “pet and cuddle” events on March 25 and March 31. Three individuals (one child and two adults) who have since been diagnosed with cryptosporidiosis reported having contact with goats at one of these events.
Cryptosporidiosis lives in the gut of infected humans or animals, according to RIDOH. It is spread through contact with the feces of an infected person or animal, typically when people touch their mouths with contaminated hands. Symptoms of cryptosporidiosis usually begin two to 10 days after infection. They include watery diarrhea with abdominal pain and cramping, which can be accompanied by dehydration, weight loss, fever, nausea, and vomiting. Although cryptosporidiosis can affect all people, some groups are likely to develop more serious illness. For people with weakened immune systems, symptoms can be severe and could lead to severe or life-threatening illness.
There is medication to treat cryptosporidiosis. Most people who contract cryptosporidiosis usually fully recover in about two weeks.
The quarantine put in place by DEM pertains to all livestock at the farm. All livestock must be kept in a manner that precludes any physical contact with the public until the quarantine is lifted.
Simmons Farm voluntarily closed the petting zoo along with their farm stand and shared the following update on their Facebook Page on Monday afternoon;
We feel it is important now that we have been properly informed to inform all of you that Unfortunately our goats have contracted cryptosporidium, a common parasite that can be passed to humans, as a precautionary measure we voluntarily closed the Farm stand and all Petting opportunities for this past weekend, 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. Thank you for all of your kind words and thoughts during this difficult time.
This is a devastating situation for us and the Farm. We are so concerned and worried about our customers and it’s a financially devastating situation as we can not make any cheese, hold any public activities or conduct any real business until the quarantine is lifted.
Anyone who has visited Simmons Farm within the last month should monitor themselves for the symptoms of cryptosporidiosis. If symptoms do develop, a healthcare provider should be contacted.
“One of the inherent risks of a petting zoo is exposure to pathogens,” said State Veterinarian Scott N. Marshall, DVM, who issued the quarantine in a news release on Monday. “Farmers and the public share the responsibility of limiting those risks. Common sense practices like ensuring only healthy animals are allowed public contact, keeping animals in a sanitary environment, providing hand-washing stations and patrons using those stations, and not eating in the area where animals are kept are some recommendations.”
Farmers and the public share the responsibility of limiting exposure to pathogens at petting zoos. 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. (People’s clothing is often contaminated when they pick up goats whose hooves have fecal matter on them.)
• 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.