Allowing children to frolic with baby spring animals can lead to them contracting serious and potentially life threatening diseases, Canterbury District Health Board is warning.
The DHB urged people to take extra care around calves, lambs and other new born farm animals this spring.
Canterbury Medical Officer of Health Dr Alistair Humphrey said serious diseases can be caught from farm animals, including tetanus, salmonella and ringworm.
"Farm animals may look cute and harmless but if you don't wash your hands thoroughly after touching them you can catch serious diseases,"
Stomach bugs were most prevalent in Canterbury during the spring months and can be a busy time on farms with visitors who do not usually deal with animals, he said.
A simple way to ensure children do not catch a bug was to make sure they washed their hands after playing with farm animals, he said.
"Children are the people most at risk as they are the most difficult part of the population to get to wash their hands when feeding farm animals.
"Children on farms need to be reminded to wash their hands regularly."
The issue was a serious one and prior cases had seen children end up in intensive care.
"Last year a young Canterbury girl was being treated at Starship Hospital after contracting a strain of E coli while feeding a lamb.
"Fortunately she is lucky to have made a full recovery thanks to the intensive care she received as early on in her illness her prognosis was bleak," Humphrey said.
It was not just farm properties, where children could come into contact with young animals.
Petting zoos can also be the same, although most have facilities where washing up can be done.
Anne-Marie Swan from Kiwi Valley Farm Park near Auckland said they have water and soap throughout their park so people can clean up after touching any animals.
"We have signs up all round the place saying to wash your hands after petting the animals and we actively encourage people to do so.
"It's something we are very aware of," she said.
Using hand sanitiser at the parks can also kill off harmful bacteria.
Diseases that can be caught from touching young animals such as lambs include:
- VTEC (E Coli 0157)