Investigation continues into E. coli outbreak
Posted October 31, 2011
Raleigh, N.C. — State health officials said nine cases of E. coli have been confirmed and another 15 are being investigated in an outbreak that has been unofficially linked to the North Carolina State Fair.
The North Carolina Division of Public Health officials said the numbers were likely to fluctuate as the investigation into the outbreak continues and more information is gleaned from people during interviews. The outbreak seemed to be under control, officials said.
All 24 sick people attended the recent North Carolina State Fair, which health officials said Friday is the "probable (source of) exposure for the outbreak."
State Epidemiologist Dr. Megan Davies said nearly all 24 people have been interviewed. Invitations were sent out to 2,000 fairgoers who did not get sick asking them to answer questions that might assist with the investigation. Trained interviewers will call those who agree to answer questions.
Though the fair is believed to be the source of the outbreak, Davies said there is no exact cause identified yet. She said if the outbreak had been related to food or water contamination, there would have been more cases.
Three young children remain in intensive care with kidney problems caused by the infection, and another child and an adult also have been hospitalized.
Wake County remains the center of the outbreak, with 11 of the 24 confirmed or suspected cases. Sampson County has seven cases, Wilson County has two cases, and Durham, Orange, Johnston and Cleveland counties have one case each.
Davies said seven of the cases investigated had a similar genetic fingerprint, which means they shared a similar exposure. She did not say where those cases were located.
Sampson County Health Director Wanda Robinson said the seven cases from her county are from the same cluster of friends and family. They all went to the State Fair and the only common activity they reported was touching goats at the petting zoo. Robinson cautioned that more questioning and lab comparisons were needed to determine what caused the cases.
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.
State Fair spokesman Brian Long said his department is working closely with state health officials to determine the cause of the outbreak.
"Ultimately, it could come out that there is no smoking gun, so to speak," Long said. "That would be really frustrating to us because if we know the source, then we can determine whether or not it's something that can be fixed."