A CITY farm has been told to stop its popular animal- feeding sessions after youngsters were struck down by a vomiting bug.
It is believed at least four children contracted the cryptosporidium parasite after visiting Gorgie City Farm, where visitors were able to bottle feed newborn lambs during the Easter holidays.
The stomach bug, which can be picked up after coming into contact with animals, causes diarrhoea, fever, stomach pain and vomiting.
None of the children has been hospitalised, although symptoms can last for up to a month.
A reminder of the importance of hand washing was issued in the wake of the outbreak.
Andrew Tweedy, general manager of the farm, was made aware of the cases after he was contacted by environmental health officers, who had linked reports of the illness back to the farm.
He said: “There’s always a risk for anybody who visits any kind of farm. But it’s an illness that’s entirely preventable if you take hand-washing precautions.
“The sessions were supervised by members of farm staff or experienced volunteers and we were reiterating hand-washing rules.
“We’re not trying to criticise but we can’t march people to the taps and make them wash their hands.”
A £2 fee was charged for a bottle to feed the lambs over the two weeks of the Easter holidays. It was the first time that the service had been offered in the 30-year history of the farm.
Mr Tweedy, above, said that the farm had already stopped the lamb feeding before it heard about the cryptosporidium cases as the animals were getting too big.
He said environmental health officers who visited the site were generally happy with precautions that had been taken, although they did recommend that a new risk assessment was carried out, hand-washing signs that had become faded were refurbished, and that the farm considered providing hygiene information leaflets.
Hand-washing facilities at the farm had been provided to the estimated 10,000 visitors over the Easter period.
Mr Tweedy added: “We are sorry if anybody has become ill and we hope they are on the road to recovery.
“You can imagine how much the children enjoyed coming to see the lambs. A balance has to be struck.
“We will take whatever steps we are advised to. If that is not to allow feeding again then we will take that action.”
Dr Richard Othieno, consultant in public health medicine for NHS Lothian, said: “We are investigating a number of cases of cryptosporidium which have been linked to Gorgie City Farm.
“We are working with the council and have provided advice to the farm to avoid public contact with the animals and to stop petting of lambs for the time being.”
Councillor Robert Aldridge, the city’s environment leader, said: “It is a concern if any child gets ill and I hope they’re getting better.
“You have to be very careful with hand washing. This bug can be easily spread.”
Cryptosporidium is a tiny parasite that causes an infection called cryptosporidiosis.
The bug typically causes diarrhoea and is often accompanied by stomach pain, nausea or vomiting, fever and sometimes dehydration and weight loss.
There is no specific treatment, with those suffering advised to drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration. Most people with a healthy immune system will recover within one month, although symptoms can pass within a week.
The parasite is found in food, soil, water, or surfaces that have been contaminated with infected human or animal faeces.
It is the fourth most commonly identified cause of human gastrointestinal infection in the UK, although it is commonly associated with foreign travel.