Fall weekends in New Jersey mean festivals, apple and pumpkin picking and corn mazes. It also means there are often petting zoos and animal exhibits at these events, which can make people sick if proper precautions are not taken.

Bruce Ruck, managing director at the New Jersey Poison Control Center at Rutgers Medical School, said even the healthiest animals at these fairs and farms can spread germs. The most common infections are ones that affect the gastrointestinal tract, with one of those organisms being E.coli. The most common symptoms people experience after visiting animal exhibits are nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

He said the simplest way to prevent illness is to wash hands frequently during visits. Because germs spread easily, be sure to wash hands immediately after petting animals, touching the animal enclosures and exiting the animal areas.

Avoid eating, drinking and touching eyes and mouths until hands have been washed thoroughly. Ruck said that if soap and water is not available, hand sanitizers work just as well.

Most at risk of getting sick at these animal exhibits are young children, older adults, those with weakened immune systems and pregnant women, but Ruck says pretty much everyone can be get infected.

Also Ruck said it's very important not to drink or eat raw unpasteurized products such as apple cider, milk, cheese and juice. He said every year the New Jersey Poison Control Center has seen outbreaks of infections caused by unpasteurized products.

Ruck also said to pack an extra pair of shoes before setting out on these animal adventures. After a visit, he said put soiled sneakers and shoes in a plastic bag before getting into the car to avoid bringing germs home. Then throw the shoes in the washing machine to get them nice and clean and sanitized.

The New Jersey Poison Control Center hotline is open 24 hours a day at 1-800-222-1222.

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