December 16, 2017

Minnesota E. Coli Fair Outbreak Linked to Traveling Petting Zoo

An E. coli O157:H7 outbreak linked to various county fairs and events around the state of Minnesota has sickened at least 13 people. The illnesses were caused by a traveling petting zoo, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

Goats-Petting-Zoo-2That traveling group, Zerebko Zoo Tran, goes from fair to fair during the summer. All of the confirmed cases have infections with E. coli O15:H7 bacteria with the same genetic fingerprint. Two of those cases are secondary cases, who were exposed to people sickened in the primary outbreak.

Environmental and animal fecal samples collected from Zerebko Zoo Tran yielded the outbreak strain of E. coli O157:H7. The owner has been cooperating with the government’s investigation and voluntarily withheld he animals from the last two fairs he was scheduled to visit in August. MDH State Public Health Veterinarian Dr. Joni Scheftel said in a statement, “these illnesses are a stark reminder that E. coli O157:H7 can be present in even the cleanest of animal operations.”

The 13 cases range in age from 2 to 68 years. 10 (77%) are female. They are residents of multiple counties in Minnesota. Seven (54%) of those sickened have been hospitalized, including three children. Two of the patients developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which can cause kidney failure and death. One person is still hospitalized with HUS as of August 12, 2014.

That specific zoo has exhibited at four events around the state between July 4 and July 27, 2014. Illnesses have been associated with each appearance. The zoo was at the Nashwauk 4th of July Festival from 7/3/14 to 7/5/14, where one person was sickened. It was at the Polk County Fair from 7/9/14 to 7/13/14, and one person was sickened. The Rice County Fair was visited from July 15 to July 20, 2014; seven people, including the two secondary cases, were sickened at that event. Finally, the Olmsted County Fair was visited from July 21 to July 2, 2014; three people were sickened there.

The Minnesota Department of Health is following up with one case who may have been exposed to other animals before that person was sickened. There could be more cases reported in the next few days from those who visited the Olmsted County Fair.

Symptoms of an E. coli infection include severe stomach cramps and diarrhea that may be watery and/or bloody, along with a mild fever. People typically get sick two to five days after exposure. Children under the age of five, senior citizens, pregnant women, and those with chronic health problems and weakened immune systems are more likely to suffer serious complications from this infection.

When visiting fairs or petting zoos, always take extra precautions. Even healthy, well-tended animals can harbor this pathogenic bacteria. Food, drinks, and any items put in the mouth should not be brought into areas with animals. Hands should always be washed with soap and water immediately after visiting animals. Hand sanitizers are not a substitute for soap and water, but do offer some protection until you can get to a bathroom. Hand sanitizers also do not work well when hands are visibly soiled.

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