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Nine E. coli cases confirmed; eight of those ill attended State Fair

Posted October 26, 2011

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— The Wake County health department said Wednesday that they have confirmed two additional cases of E. coli infection in an outbreak that has sent three children to intensive care units at area hospitals. 

Seven children and two adults have been infected with E. coli and eight of them attended the North Carolina State Fair, Sue Lynn Ledford, community health director for Wake County, said Wednesday. The victims range in age from two months to 62 years old.

The cause of their illness is not yet known, and Ledford emphasized that a visit to the fair is just one shared characteristic among those that got ill.

Ledford said it could take several days to pinpoint the source of the outbreak.

"It's like a puzzle, and you take all the different pieces of the puzzle, put them together, and then you come up with what is a conclusive finding," she said, adding that health officials are still at the very early stages of their investigation.

Five of the nine were hospitalized due to their illness. Three children remain in intensive care.

One boy, whose name was not released, is on dialysis at Duke University Hospital in Durham. Both of his kidneys are failing due to the infection.

Children, who are especially susceptible to E. coli infection, do typically recover, said state epidemiologist Megan Davies.

"The wonderful thing is that children are very resilient, much more resilient than adults are," Davies said.

Ledford said the county is working closely with state health officials to determine whether the cases are related and whether there are more cases in North Carolina. The eighth and ninth confirmed cases were from outside Wake County – an infected adult in Johnston County and an infected child in Cleveland County.  

State Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said his department will do everything they can to assist public health officials with their investigation.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the patients and their families. We hope they make a full and quick recovery," Troxler said in a statement. "At this time, there is still very little information about the potential source. We hope that as science plays out, investigators will find answers."

E. coli is a serious and potentially lethal form of food poisoning caused by bacteria found in animal feces, according to the state department of Health and Human Services. People can become ill after coming in contact with animal feces or infected food or water. It can also be spread from person to person.

Nine people sickened in E. coli outbreak Nine people sickened in E. coli outbreak; source investigated

Symptoms include diarrhea, cramping, fever, nausea and vomiting and usually appear three or four days after exposure.

Ledford encouraged people who may have come in contact with E. coli to practice careful hand washing to prevent spreading the illness.

Tips for getting hands cleaner Tips for getting hands cleaner

Anyone experiencing these symptoms should seek immediate medical attention. Ledford also asked anyone who thinks they have E.coli to call the county's communicable disease hotline at 919-250-4462.

In 2004, more than 108 people reported having an E. coli infection that was linked to a petting zoo at the State Fair. State health officials confirmed 43 of those cases.

The parents of 14 children who became seriously ill sued the state, alleging that officials with the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services knew about the E. coli risk but failed to warn fairgoers.

A state panel began deliberations two months ago over whether the families are owed compensation.

Ray Starling, an attorney for the Department of Agriculture, said in August that there is no way to completely eliminate the risk of E. coli at the fair.

"It is possible that today an outbreak could occur even with the precautions we are taking under the new state law," Starling said.

That law prevents children from walking around with animals and requires hand-washing stations at petting zoos.


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  • wildcat Oct 27, 2011

    If you touch any animal at the fair, did you wash your hands and your childrens hands. Most just touch and walk away, carrying the germs with them, decide to eat without washing hands. IT STARTS WITH YOU IN WASHING YOUR HANDS PROPERLY FOR 20 SECONDS WITH SOAP AND WATER AND USING A CLEAN PAPER TOWEL TO DRY AND THEN DISPOSE PAPER IN TRASH. STOP THE BLAMMING AND START WITH YOU INCLUDING YOUR CHILDREN.

  • wildcat Oct 27, 2011

    Wonder who bought the food at the fair, had they even washed their hands properly. Now they want to blame the fair. Of course those at the fair serving foods should have had water and soap to wash their hands constantly and properly if they are serving the public.

  • CloverHill Oct 27, 2011

    "@CloverHill (and others) - it was stated this morning on the news that the stuff that they have to sanitize your hands DOES NOT KILL THE E.COLI BACTERIA!! PLEASE PEOPLE, STOP RELYING ON THE FAST AND EASY AND JUST USE SOAP AND WATER!!!!!"

    Yes, back in 2004 they only provided the hand sanitizers. The next year I noticed the soap and water stations so that you didn't have a long hike to the nearest bathroom for soap and water. Believe me, now I know that soap and water is the best. And before 2004 we had visited the petting zoo for years and never imagined that we could become infected there. We used common sense and were careful and it still happened to us. Not to say that it will happen to everyone, but there is a risk - even if the risk is small.

    "Mr. D3-- how can they prove they caught it at the fair??"

    I don't think they've proved it yet, but they collect samples from those who are sick and compare them to strains they collect from the animals (and other possible exposures).

  • Ambygirl Oct 27, 2011

    Mr. D3-- how can they prove they caught it at the fair?? 1 million people attended and only 8/9 have E.coli??? hmmmmm...... seems like there would be more cases if it happened at the fair. People have to do the right thing and wash their hands, ESPECIALLY at some place like the fair IF that's where it came from. Common sense goes a long ways...

  • kimisufu Oct 27, 2011

    It's all about balance and common sense. Yes, we should keep ourselves clean, but there is no reason for us to sterilize ourselves. This is one way superbugs get started.

  • marinewife101 Oct 27, 2011

    @CloverHill (and others) - it was stated this morning on the news that the stuff that they have to sanitize your hands DOES NOT KILL THE E.COLI BACTERIA!! PLEASE PEOPLE, STOP RELYING ON THE FAST AND EASY AND JUST USE SOAP AND WATER!!!!!

  • LovemyPirates Oct 27, 2011

    If there is determined to be somehow State Fair related, the numbers seem very low and it seems odd they are isolated to people from Wake County.

  • Con Amor brings luv and laughter Oct 27, 2011

    I am very sad for the ones who got sick.. But why SUE the state??? I'm sorry, but I really hope that they are NOT awarded any money. Germs are everywhere! You cant blame and sue the state because you didnt know it already. I feel safer eating at the fair, than I do at my office pot lucks.. Those I stay clear of. Most of the folks there have dang nasty cats IN their houses! Ugggggg!! Scratching around in litter boxes, then walking on the counters. Oh no!! Give me some fair food any day!

  • lhdd2125 Oct 27, 2011

    Praying for all these children to fully recover. The amount of time it takes for a child to put there fingers in there mouth is almost faster than the human eye. We as parents live everyday to protect and love our children and its very scary to think that an afternoon creating a family tradition could turn so tragic for some. I for one from now on will not go anywhere public without clorox wipes and hand sanitizer. That has nothing to do with not introducing my children to germs. I just know that there are people who are so nasty. Again prayers for these families in there time of suffering.

  • Mr. D3 Oct 27, 2011

    the boards of health & agriculture seem to be covering for one another just like they did seven years ago. 108 e. coli cases in 2004 and they confirmed less than half of those. This year so far 8 of 9 cases went to the fair and they won't even admit that's where they caught it?! There's plenty of money at stake here and the ag & health boards are doing some serious damage control on behalf of the state fair, again.