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Troxler mystified by State Fair's link to E. coli outbreak

Posted November 2, 2011

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— 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.

Ag chief 'perplexed' by State Fair link to E. coli Ag chief 'perplexed' by State Fair link to E. coli

"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.


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  • pbjbeach Nov 10, 2011

    that is nothing for it mystifies me as to how mr troxler every got elect to office in the first place an come 2012 he an cherie berry need to be unelected an thrown out of office along with our wonderful governor of this state an to have a real democratic governor elected to replace her. just my own personal opinion thank you

  • tarheelgrad1998 Nov 3, 2011

    A million people from all parts (and sanitary habits) crammed into a small space run by workers who for the most part could not care less...hrm...I wonder how this could happen???

  • tamjbritt3 Nov 3, 2011

    I went to the State Farm on Saturday, October 22, 2011. I went to several of the port-a-potties. All of them had a santizing station inside of them; however, absolutely none of them had any sanitizer at all in them. The very first port-a-pottie visit was at 9:30 am and personally at this time of day, the sanitizer ought to have been full. I didn't have any problems with any of the restrooms that I went in. It was just the port-a-potties and I visited three different ones and no sanitizer... Just saying....

  • ducksrus75 Nov 3, 2011

    Over 1 million people attended the state fair and 20 people got sick, I think the odds are pretty good, that LESS than 1% got ill. How many people get sick eating at a local resturant in a 10 day period? I'll take my chances at the fair!!

  • Pseudonym Nov 3, 2011

    Wow! What a bargain! Spend $300 to go to the State Fair and you get E. Coli for free! What a deal!

  • ORMA Nov 3, 2011

    Animals are not the only source. Food vendors and poor employee sanitation can also lead to E. coli contamination.

  • kikinc Nov 3, 2011

    This isn't something that can be discovered overnight. Epidemiologists have to interview everyone that thinks they may have been sickened. Then they have to cross reference those interviews to find things in common. You don't know how many people have to be interviewed. It could have been hundreds, even thousands. Anyone who has called and said they had diarrhea will have a questionnaire to fill out. Not to mention, this isn't a case of where they can pin point what you were doing at the most likely time you were infected. There's no restaurant to go back to in order to search. We will probably not truly find out where this outbreak came from.

  • Iworkforaliving Nov 3, 2011

    And no, I haven't seen the movie Contagion.

  • Iworkforaliving Nov 3, 2011

    OK, picture this, little kid, pets feces covered animal, wipes or touches hand on shirt, pants or whatever he/she is wearing. Parents clean child's hand upon leaving animal area. Kid touches or wipes hands on same spot on clothing. Then kid gets on ride and touches hand holds or seat or whatever and also touches parent here and there. Now both the kid and parent have been exposed and every kid who touched the ride the original kid was on and then they touch their parents. Now not all these exposures result in a sickness but the amount of people exposed by this scenario raises the odds that at least a few will be very sick. I don't like it, but stop the animal attractions unless you can provide some real separation between people and animal.

  • andy2 Nov 3, 2011

    I think stuff happens. I also think the Ag. dept. has done the best they can prior to the fair starting and also trying to resolve the post fair issues. The fair has local vendors as well as the traveling vendors. I am not so sure pin pointing the cause will be easy. No fixed address for anything but the sick.