Raleigh, N.C. — State Fair organizers hope visitors will wash their hands frequently and mostly avoid touching animals in order to prevent another E. coli outbreak like the one the Cleveland County Fair that has killed a child.
Six of the 21 people sickened in the outbreak at the Cleveland County Fair in Shelby remained hospitalized Sunday. Last year, 25 people contracted E. coli infections that could be linked to a livestock building at the State Fair.
"You get a lot of people together, there's the potential for germs to be exchanged. You throw animals into that mix, there's also the potential for germs to be transmitted," said Brian Long, public affairs director for the state agriculture department.
E. coli bacteria are naturally found in the waste of animals, and people who touch contaminated material can transfer the bacteria to their mouths or to other people. Symptoms of E. coli can occur as long as 10 days after exposure and include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and a low-grade fever.
Since last year's outbreak, State Fair organizers have invested more than $200,000 in preventive measures.
Hand-washing stations have better lighting and larger signs. Animal exhibits and food vendors are placed farther apart. Most noticeably, new routes and barriers in animal buildings limit contact between humans and animals.
"Some animals are here purely to be seen and not touched," Long said.
The petting zoo is still open for those who want to feed and touch the animals. "The first thing you should do when you
leave that exhibit is wash your hands," said Long.
Hand-washing and -sanitizing stations were first added outside the petting zoo after a 2004 outbreak sickened more than 100.
Kevin White said his family has not gotten sick in 12 years of visiting the livestock and animal exhibits at the fair.
"That's probably the main point of our adventure out," White said.