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Twelve more suspected E. coli cases under investigation

Posted October 27, 2011
Updated October 28, 2011

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— Public health officials said Thursday afternoon that 12 more people might have been sickened by E. coli in a growing outbreak of the illness.

Officials have cast a wide net across the state, calling hospitals, doctors and county health departments, asking them to keep an eye out for patients with symptoms that would match an E. coli infection. Symptoms include diarrhea, cramping, fever, nausea and vomiting and usually appear three or four days after exposure.

Half of the suspected cases are in Sampson County, where one child is hospitalized, officials said. Four other suspected cases are in Wake County, while Durham County and Franklin County have one each.

State lab tests for E. coli Officials concerned about potential of more E. coli cases

Results of lab tests to confirm whether E. coli caused their illnesses won't be back until next week, said State Epidemiologist Dr. Megan Davies.

A 13th suspected case is in Johnston County. Health officials previously said that case had been confirmed as E. coli, but they backed off of that Thursday without providing details.

Seven children and one adult are confirmed to have been infected with E. coli in recent days. Three children remain in intensive care – one each Cleveland County, at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill and at Duke University Hospital in Durham – suffering from serious kidney problems that are often associated with the bacterial infection.

Although officials haven't yet determined the source of the outbreak, Davies said there's no evidence to suggest that the source presents an ongoing threat. Some people could still possibly get sick in the next few days through exposure to someone else with the illness.

Eight of the confirmed victims, who range in age from 2 months to 62 years, attended the North Carolina State Fair, which wrapped up Sunday. Davies said some of the suspected cases also reported attending the fair.

Health officials discuss E. coli outbreak Health officials discuss E. coli outbreak

"The only commonality that's shown up so far has been attending the State Fair early," she said. "We have not in these initial interviews been able to determine a common activity that they all had while there."

Hunter Tallent, 2, of Cleveland County, became sick days after visiting the State Fair. His mother said while they were at the fairgrounds they walked through the cow and horse barns, but did not touch the animals. Hunter had a lot to eat at the fair, including hot dogs, pizza and drinks.

Now, he is fighting E. coli at Levine Children's Hospital in Charlotte. Hunter is in fair condition. He has been on dialysis and doctors say he is getting better. 

hunter tallent 2-year-old fights E. coli

Seven years ago, a State Fair petting zoo was linked to an E. coli outbreak that sickened more than 100 people.

Lab tests have determined that five of the current cases involve the same strain of E. coli as the 2004 petting zoo illnesses. Officials noted, however, that the strain also has been linked to outbreaks involving hamburger and cheese.

Health officials are "convinced the exposure was in Wake County," Davies said, but they still aren't confident enough to point to the fair as the source of the outbreak.

"It really is not conclusively tied to any common factor right now that we've been able to identify," said Sue Lynn Ledford, Wake County' health director.

Ledford said it would be irresponsible for health officials to make a snap judgment about the source of the outbreak without extensive analysis of people's activities.

Dr. Mask: E. coli is very serious infection Q&A about E. coli

Officials plan to conduct more in-depth interviews of those sickened by E. coli this weekend. Technicians in a state lab also are testing manure from the petting zoo and kiddie barn at the State Fair to compare its DNA to the samples from the E. coli victims.

E. coli is a 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.

Ben Chapman, a food safety researcher at North Carolina State University, said E. coli can also live on surfaces so long as they are wet.

“As that dries out that E. coli will be less viable,” he said.

Outbreaks are under investigation in at least three other states, none of which are believed to be related.

Fourteen people are sick so far in an outbreak in Missouri, and two adults and a child are ill in Michigan. A case that killed one child and left nine more ill in Wisconsin last month was traced this week to an elementary school.

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  • FromClayton Oct 28, 2011

    well if it ends up being a food vendor then that is just nasty and they should have been more careful.

    If it ends up being an animal, it is the people's fault for not washing their hands good enough. I let my 1 1/2 year old touch the baby chickens. He loved it. Got great pictures. Then we squirted his hands with sanatizer, and went straight to the hand washing station. we washed his hands so good we both ended up soaked. but we had clean hands!

    I plan on letting him play with that baby chickens again next year.

  • cowgirlone Oct 28, 2011

    So out of over 1,009,173 in attendance at the state fair there are approximately 25 (+ or -)cases of e coli that might be related to the State Fair. 1,009,148 that appear unaffected....

  • Bartmeister Oct 28, 2011

    Dang Carnies come into town, make everybody sick and leave.

  • Made In USA Oct 28, 2011

    I would enjoy much more a big bowl of home-cooked NC grown butter beans over a fried moon pie at the Fair.

  • Commen Oct 28, 2011

    There were several “hand washing stations” located in and around animal exhibits, not including the permanent lavatories. The hand washing stations were easily accessible and clean and some of the exhibitors also had people giving “hand sanitizer” squirts to those who wanted it.
    After last year’s outbreak of E. coli, these “clean” facilities/measures were implemented.
    Some people just don’t think!!
    Wash your hands!!

  • Made In USA Oct 28, 2011

    What do you expect from these fly-by vendors and the unhealthy food they serve? The NC State Fair should be a place that promotes NC Grown agriculture products and the vendors should be serving THESE healthy meats and vegetables to the fair-goers.

  • barbstillkickin Oct 28, 2011

    I HAVE ONE THING TO SAY AND THAT IS (PARENTS EVER THINK TO HAVE YOUR KIDS WASH THERE HANDS FOR CRYING OUT LOUD) NO CHILD OF MINE WOULD EVER TOUCH ANY ANIMALS ANYWHERE WITHOUT WASHING HANDS AFTERWORDS. I SEE KIDS USING PUBLIC RESTROOMS AND NEVER WASHING HANDS AND MOM IS RIGHT THERE. IT MAKES ME SICK CAUSE MY KIDS WASHED THERE HANDS SO MUCH THEY USE TO TELL ME I WAS GOING TO MAKE THERE SKIN ALL DISAPPEAR.

  • anne53ozzy Oct 28, 2011

    In the local groceries are stations to wipe hands and carts. Are they also at the state fair areas that can be a source of these outbreaks? They should be at all food stands and animal exhibits.

  • that_judi_girl Oct 28, 2011

    the health dept will so be working this weekend Mr. D3

  • fayncmike Oct 28, 2011

    "I think people are just more sickly because parents don't allow their kids to be exposed to any germ or bacteria.4cats"

    That's 100% correct. People, these days are so over reactive and paranoid about this whole germ thing. They have one or more of these phobias, Microbiophobia- Fear of microbes. (Bacillophobia)
    Microphobia- Fear of small things.
    Misophobia or Mysophobia- Fear of being contaminated with dirt or germs and or obsessive/compulsive disorder. It does not bode well for their future or the future of their offspring's. A little dirt and germs are really good for the immune system.

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