Three children who attended the Red River Valley Fair in West Fargo, North Dakota have E. coli infections. One of them has been hospitalized with a life-threatening complication, hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS).
About 15 percent of children with E. coli infections develop HUS, which causes kidney failure. Children with HUS often experience problems with their central nervous systems such as seizure and stroke.
North Dakota health officials have not yet determined the source of the bacteria at the fair held July 7-12, 2015. Some possibilities include undercooked ground beef or other meats, contaminated produce or sprouts and contact with animals at petting zoos or other animal exhibits. All three children did report having contact with animals, but health officials are looking at all possible sources.
E. coli bacteria live in the intestines of humans and other animals and are shed in their feces. “With local fairs, where oversight is infrequent at best, any food should be treated with caution. This is especially true where children are involved. Likewise, contact with fair animals such as cows and goats carries a risk of E. coli contamination. These venues are rarely equipped with proper handwashing facilities and other sanitation measures,” said food safety attorney Brendan Flaherty.
A fair official told WDAZ that there hasn’t been a petting zoo at the fair for three years. Also, barns are sprayed down after cattle or horse shows and food vendors are not allowed near the animal exhibits.