RALEIGH, N.C. — Health officials are trying to determine if a petting zoo at the North Carolina State Fair is the common link between eight people infected with
The state health department said the majority of cases are among children. In Wake County, health officials are reporting four confirmed cases and one potential case. There were other reported cases in Wilson, Lee and Mecklenburg counties.
Three other possible cases are pending lab results.
"We do consider eight cases in this short period of time an outbreak for E.coli," state health director Leah Devlin said.
Gibbie Harris, Wake County's community health director, said it is not uncommon for animals that have stepped on their own E.coli-infected feces to jump on children.
"A lot of this is still under investigation. We are filling out information forms and sending them into the state, so they can make these connections for us," Harris said. "At this point, there is some connection. We're just not sure how strong that is."
Officials said it is not clear how many of the victims visited the petting zoo that originated in Connecticut. The same petting zoo was at the South Carolina State Fair the week prior to coming to North Carolina. There were no reports of E.coli contamination.
The Department of Agriculture said there were signs posted at the petting zoo warning about disease transmission and the importance of hand washing, especially after contact with animals.
"We're very anxious to find out the cause of this. We still don't know that it was at the fair," state Agriculture Commissioner Britt Cobb said.
Harris warned that parents should seek immediate medical attention if their child has bloody diarrhea, as this may be a sign of infection. Other symptoms include nausea and vomiting, severe abdominal cramps and fever. At least one of the young victims is in serious condition after the bacteria caused kidney failure.
"We don't want everyone to panic. It's not going to be every child who went to the petting zoo. It's just certain chidren who got it. We're on our way to get the message out on how to prevent it from happening in the future," said community health medical director Dr. David Damsker.
Health officials are in the process of interviewing patients and families to see if there are any common routes of exposure.
The State Fair is one of the possible sources under investigation as several of the people who are ill did attend the fair, but the investigation is not complete and no definite source has yet been identified. The state is conducting DNA tests to see if all of the cases came from the same source.