Fair and Petting Zoo Safety

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Local E. coli outbreak widens

DURHAM -- State public health officials disclosed Friday that a second Durham County child and one from Person County are among 20 people statewide who have been confirmed with E. coli infections.

The two newly reported cases and two previously reported cases in Durham and Chatham counties are part of the upsurge in problems that appear to be linked to one or more infected animals in the children's petting zoo at the N.C. State Fair.

A student at Glenwood Elementary School in Chapel Hill also was reported by school officials late Friday to have a confirmed case of E. coli infection, although there was no announcement from the county health department. State public health officials also didn't include any Orange County residents in their daily E. coli infection update, issued about the same time as the school's announcement. It is possible, however, that the Glenwood student doesn't live in Orange County.

Durham County Health Director Brian Letourneau said the 2½- and 3-year-old children confirmed to have E. coli infections in Durham County both appear to have contracted the disease from the petting zoo. Both are recovering at home, he said.

"I don't think there's any question about it, this process is going to uncover more cases," he said, "because we're looking for it. But there's also a good chance that a few of the cases that are turning up around the state aren't going to be connected to the petting zoo. We average some 42 cases of this infection in the state every year."

Person County Health Director Marc Kolman said that county's one confirmed case and four suspected cases are all from the same family, and all five visited the petting zoo at the fair. The confirmed case involves a 4-year-old child, he said.

Like other health officials around the state, Kolman urged parents and child care providers, including school officials, to send home any child having loose bowel movements for two days or more. Anyone suffering those symptoms should consult a doctor immediately, he said.

"The basic message is to try to control the disease," Kolman said. That means frequent hand washing -- especially after contact with fecal material. Eating contaminated food such as improperly washed vegetables or hamburger that's not cooked enough to kill the bacteria also can spread the disease, health officials warn.

State health officials said Friday that they considered the 20 confirmed cases as potentially part of the petting zoo outbreak, but further investigation may reveal that some of those cases are unrelated. Seventeen of the 20 people had visited the State Fair, with most reporting exposure to animals. The officials said they didn't yet know by late Friday whether the other three had visited the fair.

Officials also reported another 39 possible cases under review but not confirmed as E. coli infection. They planned to continue the investigation through the weekend, including genetic fingerprinting of confirmed cases to trace similarities among the bugs and to confirm which might be associated with the State Fair.

On the Net: www.dhhs.state.nc.us

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