Heaven on Earth rescue farm linked to crypto outbreak

Farm sanctuaries sound nice, former Daily Show host Jon Stewart and his partner run several.

But does Jon Stewart know microbiology?

Visitors to the popular Heaven on Earth animal rescue farm in Bethlehem Township, Pennsylvania (which Stewart is not affiliated with, that I know of), have come down with a variety of stomach illnesses linked to the farm, state health officials said Friday.

“At least five laboratory-confirmed cryptosporidium infections and at least six compatible illnesses have been associated with this farm,” the state Department of Health said Friday in a health advisory.

Hundreds of people may have been exposed to infected young goats and calves in the last four or five weeks since the public was invited to help feed the animals at the 3868 Bethman Road farm just east of Route 33, the advisory noted.

The Health Department is asking that all those who became ill after visiting the farm contact the department at 877-PA-HEALTH and consult their personal doctors.

Meanwhile, Heaven on Earth Farm owner Jahjah Melhem announced Friday the farm is no longer open to the public.

“In the past four years, Heaven on Earth Farm has had the pleasure of meeting so many of you. There has been a ton of love and support that visited the property at any given time,” Melhem says on the farm’s Facebook page. “We have decided that it is in our best interest to close the farm to the public so that we can focus on the well-being of the animals.”

He said he is working with the Health Department to determine the origin of the reported sicknesses. He said he isn’t sure anyone was infected at the farm, but it is possible.

“People come every day with their kids and we never had a problem,” Melhem said. “I’m fine. I’m here every day. Three or four women are here every day and none of them are sick.”

The farm has attracted 600 people since mid-February to help Melhem with 30 baby goats he rescued to avoid their slaughter. He asked for volunteers, he said, because the goats needed bottle-feeding four times a day.

On Thursday, a Health Department researcher told him she had three or four cases of people who visited the farm becoming sick later. Since then, the department has associated additional illnesses with the farm.

A table of petting zoo outbreaks is available at http://barfblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Petting-Zoo-Outbreaks-Table-4-8-14.xlsx.

Best practices for planning events encouraging human-animal interactions

Zoonoses and Public Health 62:90-99, 2015

G. Erdozain , K. KuKanich , B. Chapman  and D. Powell

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/zph.12117/abstract?deniedAccess

Educational events encouraging human–animal interaction include the risk of zoonotic disease transmission. It is estimated that 14% of all disease in the US caused by Campylobacter spp., Cryptosporidium spp., Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) O157, non-O157 STECs, Listeria monocytogenes, nontyphoidal Salmonella enterica and Yersinia enterocolitica were attributable to animal contact. This article reviews best practices for organizing events where human–animal interactions are encouraged, with the objective of lowering the risk of zoonotic disease transmission.