The Cleveland County Health Department in North Carolina is investigating four cases of E. coli poisoning. Health officials say the outbreak may be linked to the Cleveland County Fair. Two of the three patients visited the fair before becoming ill. One of the patients, a 12-year-old boy, milked a cow in the fair’s petting zoo and then ate corndogs. He is now hospitalized in critical condition with HUS and Shigella.
Outbreaks of illness at fairs is not unusual. This year there have been outbreaks of swine flu in people who have attended state and county fairs around the country.
Attorney Brendan Flaherty said, “there needs to be more emphasis on hand sanitation in these situations. Farm animals can routinely carry pathogenic bacteria even if they are not sick themselves. And children, especially, can get sick because the animals often lick their hands, then the children put their fingers into their mouths.” Flaherty is a food safety lawyer who represents E. coli and HUS victims nationwide.
Bringing food into animal barns at fairs and petting zoos can lead to cross-contamination. Hand-washing stations are posted around the fair and near the animal bars, with signs encouraging people to wash their hands after touching the animals and leaving the barn.
The symptoms of E. coli food poisoning include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea which may be bloody, and severe stomach cramps. The patient usually becomes ill about a week after exposure. One of the complications of the illness, hemolytic uremic syndrome, is caused by damage to red blood cells from the Shiga toxins the E. coli bacteria produces.
Patients can go into kidney failure and have other serious complications, including stroke, seizures, and heart attack. If you have visited a fair and are exhibiting these symptoms, see your healthcare provider immediately. The complications of this type of infection can be long-lasting, even if your symptoms are mild. Most people need long-term follow up care.