Troxler mystified by State Fair's link to E. coli outbreak
Posted November 2, 2011
Raleigh, N.C. — State Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said Wednesday that he is “perplexed” by a growing E. coli outbreak linked to the North Carolina State Fair.
At least 30 people were sickened after attending the fair, which officials have called the "probable" source of the outbreak, but health officials haven’t been able to pinpoint a common activity among them.
Twelve cases have been confirmed as E. coli, according to the latest numbers from the state Division of Public Health. Five children and one adult were still in the hospital Wednesday.
Troxler, whose agency manages the State Fair, said priority is getting everyone home from the hospital and continuing to narrow down the cause.
"I had all three of my grandkids there on numerous occasions. My 84-year-old mother was there, my sons, my pregnant daughter-in-law," he said. "We all understand we need to have (the fair) as safe as we can possibly make it."
A state law requiring sanitation stations throughout the fair, which was adopted after a 2004 E. coli outbreak linked to a State Fair petting zoo, was a step toward preventing illness, he said.
"Everybody tells me how clean the state fairgrounds are. We concentrate on that to make the State Fair clean, so I guess we're just perplexed at how it happened," he said.
"We have all the animals in competition inspected by state vets. The petting zoo animals have a private vet (providing) health certification on them. The food stands are inspected at least once and sometimes numerous times when they're on the grounds," he said.
Results of lab tests that might shed more light on the outbreak are expected next week, public health officials said.
"Until the science says, 'This is what happened. This is where it happened,' I really don't know what else we can do," Troxler said.
To help eliminate possible causes, officials have recruited nearly 1,000 fairgoers who didn't get sick to fill out a questionnaire as part of a case control study.
Meanwhile, those infected are working on getting better.
Two-year-old Hunter Tallent suffered from serious kidney problems after he became ill with what appears to be E. coli and remains on dialysis in a Charlotte hospital, but he is making great strides, his mother said Wednesday.
Hunter urinated on his own Tuesday night – a major breakthrough after the infection caused his kidneys to fail.
"This is definitely a good start, and we're on our way to recovery. We're really happy about that, and there was a big celebration last night," Lindsay Tallent said. "I've never been so happy to talk about my son peeing."
He attended the fair on Oct. 15, but the other people who became ill attended on different days, officials said. Tallent said Hunter did not go to the petting zoo at the fair.
She said officials haven't given her any indication of what the cause of the outbreak might be.
"It's really hard to tell. I mean, they ask us questions about everything," Tallent said. "They're asking a bunch of questions about the animals – what was going on there and what we did. Did we wash our hands? But then, when we were eating, they want to know what we ate, where we ate, did we wash our hands. They wanted to know about sanitation stations out there and, if we rode rides, what rides did we ride."
The father of a Triangle boy who was hospitalized with an E. coli infection said he is also improving and that he did not go to the petting zoo either.
Sampson County Health Director Wanda Robinson said that a mother and child hospitalized at Pitt Memorial Hospital in Greenville had been discharged, but the state still included them in their count of current hospitalizations.
Robinson has previously said that, in all seven cases of E. coli infection in Sampson County, the sickened person touched goats at the petting zoo.