April 17, 2024

Utah STEC Outbreak Investigated; Petting Zoos and Farms Studied

Public health officials in Utah are investigating an increase in Shiga toxin-producing E. coli infections (STEC) in that state, according to the Utah Department of Health. The source of this Utah STEC outbreak has not been identified, but some patients said they visited farms, corn mazes, and petting zoos before they got sick.

Utah STEC Outbreak E. coli O157:H7 Petting Zoo

This is nothing new. In the past few years, there have been several E. coli outbreaks linked to those types of attractions. Food safety attorney Fred Pritzker warned the public years ago about the potential danger at agricultural tourism venues.

Ruminant animals, such as goats and cows, carry E. coli and other pathogenic bacteria in their intestines, and those animals do not get sick. The bacteria are shed in the animal’s feces, which can then contaminate bedding, fences and rails, gates, and the general environment around the animal. Fred said, “These venues can be problematic. Some large state and county fairs have banned petting zoos because of this issue.”

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And in 2016, the law firm of Pritzker Hageman won a $7.5 million verdict on behalf of a child who visited Dehn’s Pumpkins in Dayton, Minnesota. The child suffered severe kidney damage after contracting an E. coli O157:H7 infection. Six other people were sickened in that outbreak. The illness were linked to cows that were in the animal attraction at the farm.

The Utah STEC outbreak has sickened 20 people since October 1, 2018. Patients live along the Wasatch Front and in the Central and Southwestern regions of the state. The patient age range is from 10 months to 71 years old. Eleven of the 20 patients are under the age of 18. Six people have been hospitalized.

Kenneth Davis, an epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health, said in a statement, “For the past five years, Utah has averaged about 13 cases of STEC during the month of October. An average of 113 STEC cases and 25 hospitalizations are reported each year in Utah. This increase in October is higher than normally expected.”

The symptoms of a STEC infection are severe and dramatic. They include severe and painful stomach cramps, diarrhea that may be bloody, and vomiting. Symptoms usually start a few days after exposure.

This infection can develop into a serious complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), if improperly treated with antibiotics or antidiarrheal medicine, or if the patient is under the age of 5. HUS is a type of kidney failure, and can be deadly. Symptoms of HUS include little urine output, easy bruising, lethargy, and pale skin.

Anyone who visits a petting zoo or farm attraction should carefully practice good hand hygiene. Watch children carefully at these exhibits. Make sure they do not put their hands in their mouths until they have been washed with soap and water.  And never eat or drink around ruminant animals.

If you or a family member visited one of these attractions and has been sick, you may be part of this Utah STEC outbreak. See your doctor.

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