Back to School: Please Do Not Kiss the Class Frog

Aug 17, 2012, 2:35 PM

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reminding schools and parents that while many interacting with a “class pet” at school can present important opportunities to help children learn responsibility and nurturing, having animals in the classroom can pose a risk of illness and injury if not handled properly. The CDC has a list of over thirty diseases animals can spread, and a fact sheet onanimals in school and daycare settings. Little kids are at increased risk because their immune systems are still developing, also because they are more likely than older kids and grownups to put their fingers in their mouths after touching an animal.

In the United States, human illness from animals include salmonella, E. coli and rabies, and germs that spread the infection can be found in droppings, cages or wherever animals walk around.

The CDC advises that everyone wash their hands right after handling animals, their food and their habitats such as cages, water bowls and toys. Soap and water are best, and if hand sanitizer alone is used, wash hands with soap and water as soon as it is available.

Additional precautions:

  • Never allow young children to put their hands or objects, such as pacifiers, in their mouth while interacting with animals.
  • Adults should supervise human-animal contact, particularly for kids younger than 5.
  • Children, teachers and other staff should be instructed to wash hands after contact with animals, animal products or feed or animal environments.
  • Display animals in enclosed cages or under appropriate restraints.
  • Designate specific areas for interaction with animals.
  • Do not allow human food in animal contact areas; do not allow animals in areas where human food and drink are prepared, served, or consumed.
  • Clean and disinfect all areas where animals have been present. Children should perform this task only under adult supervision.
  • Do not clean animal cages or enclosures in sinks or other areas used to prepare food and drinks.

The CDC recommends against having certain animals in school or child care settings for kids younger than 5 including turtles, snakes, lizards, frogs, toads, salamanders, newts, live poultry and ferrets.

And you’d think it would go without saying, but, some animals just don’t belong in any school or child care setting, including:

  • Mammals at high risk for transmitting rabies, including bats, raccoons, skunks, foxes and coyotes
  • Aggressive or unpredictable wild or domestic animals
  • Stray animals
  • Venomous or toxin-producing spiders, insects, reptiles, and amphibians
  • Inherently dangerous animals, such as lions, tigers, cougars and bears
  • Nonhuman primates such as monkeys and apes

The CDC recommends that animals that will be brought to school have a certificate of veterinary inspection and proof of rabies vaccination, and that personnel or facilities involved in displaying animals, whether at their facility or at school, daycare or other child programs, is licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

>>Bonus Link: CDC has a collection of resources for safe animal contact by kids, and a helpful podcast on the subject. Also follow FDA’s Veterinary Health Twitter feed for news alerts on animal-related illness outbreaks.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.