An E. coli 0157:H7 outbreak linked to the Willow Grove Gardens Pumpkin Patch and petting zoo has been announced by the Cowlitz County Health & Human Services Department of Washington. Public health officials have confirmed one child is ill with the bacterial infection, and there is one probable case.
One of the children was hospitalized for several days but is now recovering. Public health officials are asking that anyone who visited the facility and has symptoms of E. coli food poisoning such as diarrhea, which may be bloody, severe stomach cramps, vomiting, or a mild fever, contact them immediately at 360-414-5599.
Attorney Ryan Osterholm said, “animal exhibit operators must take responsibility for the risk of E. coli infection. Play areas, eating areas, and animal contact areas should be separate and well defined, with enough washing facilities and information about possible E. coli contamination posted.”
E. coli can easily be transmitted from animals to people when they touch or feed animals, touch the floor that has been contaminated with feces, using contaminated play equipment, or sitting or playing on the ground where animals have defecated. All it takes after the bacteria has been transmitted to fingers is touching the eyes, nose, or mouth.
Most of the people who have been sickened at petting zoos and fairs are children. And those children are more at risk for developing hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a complication of an E. coli 0157:H7 infection.
Anyone who visits a fair or petting zoo or has contact with farm animals should wash their hands thoroughly with soap and warm water immediately after touching animals. Supervise young children to make sure that hand-washing is properly done. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can help, but keep rubbing until the sanitizer has evaporated, then wash your hands at the first opportunity.