February 27, 2024

After Deadly E.coli Outbreak, No Petting Zoo at Cleveland County Fair

The Cleveland County Fair in North Carolina won’t have a petting zoo this year. Organizers of the fair, which opens next week, decided against it after an E.coli outbreak linked to last year’s petting zoo sickened 106 people. Most of those who became ill were children, one of whom died.

Petting ZooHeavy rains caused runoff  that was a likely factor in widespread contamination of the area surrounding the petting zoo exhibit, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. This year, fairgoers will not be able to touch the animals, which will be displayed in gated areas, and must walk through hand washing stations before entering and leaving each exhibit.

E.coli outbreaks have been linked to a number of fairs with live animal exhibits. A 2011 outbreak at the North Carolina State Fair in Raleigh sickened 25 people, four of whom developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) which can cause kidney failure, seizure, stroke and coma.  In 2004, another outbreak linked to the North Carolina State Fair petting zoo, sickened 187, 15 of whom developed HUS.

Other examples include: the 2011 Fond du Lac County Fair in Wisconsin , where an 18-month old was hospitalized with an E. coli infection after attending the fair; the 2011 Hendricks County Fair in Indiana, where a five-year-old girl died of an E. coli infection after attending the fair, the 2010 Northwestern Michigan Fair where three children who attended the fair contracted E. coli poisoning; and the 2010 Rush County Fair in Indiana where a four-year-old girl was hospitalized with HUS after attending the fair.

E.coli is a bacteria that lives in the intestines of animals. When it is shed in their feces, microscopic amounts of feces can get on animals’ fur and then be transferred on to the hands of children who pet them and then touch their faces, food, pacifiers, bottles or sippy cups. Thorough hand washing with soap and running water can prevent illness, but only if it is done after the child pets the animal and before he or she touches anything else.

It is for this reason that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that children under five not handle live animals and that children older than that do so with adult supervision. Public health officials remind fairgoers to look for functioning hand washing stations before attending an animal exhibit, alcohol-based hand sanitizers are not an effective substitute for hand washing.


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