The E. coli outbreak linked to the Cleveland County Fair in North Carolina is the latest example of how children are hit hardest when foodborne illness strikes fairgoers. Of the 106 people included in this outbreak, 64 are children, 12 of whom have been hospitalized and one of whom has died, according to the latest update from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. Animal exposure has been identified as a a possible source of the outbreak, which has been the case in a number of instances where foodborne illness outbreaks have been linked to fairs and petting zoos.
“These events are a well recognized source of E. coli poisoning and have been implicated in several outbreaks in recent years,” said Fred Pritzker, food safety attorney and publisher of Food Poisoning Bulletin. “Despite the frequency and severity of these outbreaks, not enough is being done to prevent these severe injuries to children, who are particularly vulnerable to E. coli poisoning and the horrible condition that frequently develops from it, hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS).”
HUS, a condition that develops in some cases of E. coli poisoning in children, leads to kidney failure and can cause organ damage, coma, stroke and death. The condition must be treated in a hospital setting. HUS symptoms include vomiting, bloody diarrhea, fever and lethargy.
E. coli and HUS are often part of outbreaks linked to fairs. Some recent examples include: the Fond du Lac County Fair, Wisconsin , 2011 where an 18-month old was hospitalized with an E. coli infection after attending the fair; the Hendricks County Fair, Indiana, 2011, where a five-year-old girl died of an E. coli infection after attending the fair, the North Carolina State Fair 2011, where 27 people got sick and 11 were hospitalized with HUS, the Northwestern Michigan Fair, 2010 where three children who attended the fair contracted E. coli poisoning and the Rush County Fair, Indiana, 2010 where a four-year-old girl was hospitalized with HUS after attending the fair.
Health officials urge those who became ill after attending the Cleveland County Fair to seek medical attention and for those caring for ill family members to practice good hygiene to prevent person-to-person transmission.