Organizers of the Milk Makers Fest in Lynden, Washington, said one of the 45 case patients in an E. coli outbreak associated with the annual schools event remained hospitalized this week at St. Joseph Hospital in Bellingham. All together there have been eight hospitalizations among a case patient population dominated by first-graders from public schools throughout Whatcom County, including schools in Bellingham, Lynden, Ferndale, Meridian, Blaine, Nooksack Valley and Mount Baker.
E. coli lawyers, medical experts, infectious disease investigators and a growing number of parents suspect the cause of the outbreak could be related to animal feces at the event’s petting zoo or around other live animals on exhibit at the Milk Makers Fest. Still, officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are about to help in the analysis. “CDC is arriving late this weekened to assist the county and state health departments in identifying the cause or causes of the E. coli outbreak associated with the Milk Makers Fest held April 20-34 at the Northwest Washington Fair in Lynden,” the organizers said Friday, May 8.
E. coli O157:H7 is the type of pathogen found in victims of this outbreak. Toxins emitted by the organism can not only cause stomach illness, including bloody diarrhea, but those toxins can go on to wreak havoc in the host — usually starting with kidney failure and the onset of hemolytic uremic syndrome, or HUS. Young children are the most vulnerable to the disease, which can also lead to heart damage, seizures, stroke and paralysis. The problem of E. coli outbreaks at petting zoos and other animal exhibits is so well known, a national veterinary association has for years published a compendium of safeguards that petting zoo operators should follow to minimize the health risk.
Toxic types of E. coli also have been associated with many outbreaks linked to raw milk, but the hosts of the 2015 Milk Makers Fest have stated that no raw milk was used at this year’s event. The only milk product served to the participants was commercially available pasteurized chocolate milk. Pasteurization kills E.coli. “The Health Department has indicated that milk is not considered a likely source of contamination,” the event organizers have said.