Fair and Petting Zoo Safety

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Number of fair-related illnesses grows to 17

The count of people infected with a bacteria that can cause kidney failure has risen to 17 confirmed cases and 20 suspected cases statewide, with Hillsborough and Pinellas counties newly in the mix.

Fourteen Florida children and three adults have been confirmed to have contracted a specific strain of E. coli after attending either the Florida Strawberry Festival in Plant City or the Central Florida Fair in Orlando.

All had diarrhea within the past two to three weeks and all tested positive for the specific strain of E. coli, or showed signs of having hemolytic uremic syndrome, HUS, a fairly infrequent and life-threatening complication of the E. coli infection.

Hardest hit has been Orange County, site of the Central Florida Fair, which has 11 confirmed cases. Other confirmed cases have popped up in Collier, Pasco, Seminole and Volusia counties.

Three of the suspected cases are from Hillsborough County, two from Pinellas and one from Pasco, the latter involving a 12-year-old girl who died last week.

The Hillsborough cases involve two adults and one child who all attended the Florida Strawberry Festival, said Cindy Morris, environmental administrator for the Hillsborough County Health Department.

They all had diarrhea lasting three to seven days, but lab test results for E. coli or HUS will not be back until later this week, Morris said.

"The numbers are in flux right now," Morris said. "They will probably go up and down as we determine if each case meets the criteria."

None of the three is hospitalized, she said.

The suspected cases in Pinellas involve a child and an adult, said Pinellas County Health Department director Dr. John Heilman. The two, unrelated, also attended the strawberry festival and experienced diarrhea. Lab results are pending, he said.

Health investigators are still trying to determine the source of the bacteria, which originates in animal feces. It could have come from a visit to the petting zoo, from undercooked meat or virtually anything tainted by the feces.

The Florida Department of Agriculture has been testing hundreds of stool samples from animals that were at both fairs. However, that process is made difficult because the strain comes and goes in animals.

Once again, the state health department urged anyone around livestock to wash their hands thoroughly.

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