Four children who visited the petting zoo at Willow Grove Gardens Pumpkin Patch have tested positive for E.coli, Hilary Gillette-Walch, nurse manager for the Cowlitz County Health Department told Food Poisoning Bulletin this afternoon. At least one of the children, who are all under ten, was hospitalized.
Results from lab tests show one child was infected with the strain E. coli 0157:H7, results from tests to identify the strains of E.coli that infected of the other three children are pending. It could be weeks before health officials know with certainty if all four children were poisoned by the same strain, said Gillette-Walch.
Symptoms of an infection include nausea, vomiting and diarrhea which can sometimes by bloody. The bacteria can be picked up by petting an animal and then touching your face, eyes, nose or mouth without first washing hands or using hand sanitizer. It can also be transferred by touching muddy farm fields that contain manure and then touching your face without first washing hands with running water. Eating, drinking, or using a pacifier in areas where animals are housed can also be a risk.
Using alcohol based hand sanitizer is not an adequate substitute for washing hands with running water, health officials stress. When visiting petting zoos or animal exhibits, ”check to see if a hand-washing station with running water is available before visiting the animals. If a hand-washing station is not available, do not have any contact,” Cowlitz health authorities say. “ If you have had contact with animals and discover that hand-washing station is not available, be sure to use plenty of alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Keep rubbing until the sanitizer has evaporated, then wash your hands at the first opportunity and always wash before eating.”
Petting zoos are frequently linked to E.coli outbreaks because they often lack hand washing facilities. Earlier this month an E.coli outbreak associated with visitors of the Cleveland County Fair in North Carolina. One child has died and 105 others have been sickened in that outbreak. At least 13 of those sickened, became so ill they required hospitalization.