Washington County, Oregon Public Health is investigating several cases of diarrheal illness caused by Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) bacteria in that area. One of the sources officials are looking at is livestock at the Washington County Fair.
Anyone who attended the Washington County Fair July 28-31, 2016 and has experienced the symptoms of a STEC infection should contact their healthcare provider. Symptoms include severe stomach and abdominal cramps, vomiting, a mild fever, and diarrhea that is watery and/or bloody.
The source has not been definitely identified. The investigation is ongoing. Public Health is also investigating food items that are not related to the fair.
STEC infections can be life-threatening, especially if they develop into hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a serious complication of this illness. HUS symptoms include lethargy, little or no urine output, a skin rash, losing pink color in the lower eyelids and cheeks, and easy bruising. Those with a higher risk of developing HUS include young children and the elderly. Anyone experiencing those symptoms should be taken to a doctor immediately.
Deputy Health Officer Dr. Christina Baumann said, “this type of infection is highly contagious even when symptoms are mild. To prevent the spread of disease, people with diarrhea should stay home while sick and avoid handling food or preparing food for others. The best way to prevent getting STEC infection is by washing hands well with soap and water. It’s very important to wash your hands after using the bathroom or changing diapers, before preparing or eating food, and after contact with animals or their environments at farms, petting zoos and fairs.”
There have been several E. coli outbreaks linked to county and state fairs in the past few years. Last year, a deadly E. coli outbreak at the Oxford County Fair in Maine killed a toddler. Another E. coli outbreak in North Dakota last summer sickened at least five people. And an E. coli outbreak linked to Zerebko Zoo Tran petting zoo in 2014 at county fairs in Minnesota sickened at least 15 people.
Ruminant animals such as cows and goats carry E. coli bacteria in their intestines. Those animals don’t get sick because they don’t have the gene that lets the bacteria cause illness. But they can shed the bacteria in their feces and it can get onto their coats. When people pet these animals, and don’t wash their hands or put their hands into their mouths, they can get sick.
If you choose to go to a county or state fair and plan on visiting petting zoos or animal barns or exhibits, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Don’t put anything in your mouth in the animal areas, including food, beverages, pacifiers, toys, or hands. Leave these items outside the animal barns. Be aware that your clothing, shoes, and strollers can pick up germs in animal areas; wash them thoroughly before you take them into your home. And wash your hands thoroughly after visiting these areas. Supervise the kids to make sure they wash their hands properly.
If anyone does get sick after visiting a fair, see your doctor. Proper treatment for an E. coli infection will help prevent the development of HUS.