Fair and Petting Zoo Safety

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Petting Zoo Tests Due Monday

PLANT CITY - State agriculture officials don't expect test results on petting zoo animals until Monday as health authorities continue to investigate the cause of kidney failure among some visitors to recent fairs in Hillsborough and Orange counties.

But it won't be surprising if tests come back positive for E. coli - many animals carry the bacteria. ``It doesn't (usually) make the animals sick,'' said Liz Compton, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Agriculture.

None of the animals exhibited any symptoms of illness, she said.

Health officials are trying to determine if a handful of people, mostly children, were sickened after they or family members visited petting zoos at the Florida Strawberry Festival in Plant City or Central Florida Fair in Orlando.

Compton cautioned that other sources - such as contaminated food - could be responsible for the outbreak of HUS, or hemolytic uremic syndrome. HUS has been linked to E. coli in previous outbreaks in other states.

But the syndrome can also occur with salmonella, which is associated with chicken; shigella, which is associated with sewage; and some viral agents, one health official said.

Only two of the sick people have tested positive for E. coli, an Orlando physician said today.

Compton said the mere presence of E. coli in animals wouldn't prove that they were the source of the HUS. Animals can test positive for E. coli one day and negative the next because they can shed the bacteria through their wastes, she added. ``We would not be surprised if we find it.''

If the tests come back positive, samples would be turned over to health officials for DNA type tests to see if the E. coli from the animals infected the sick children and adults.

Agriculture officials are testing animals from vendors who supplied petting zoo animals for the festival or fair. At least seven children and two adults, all in the Orlando area, have or are suspected to have HUS.

Visitors to petting zoos should wash their hands afterward, health officials say.

Reporter Kathy Steele contributed to this report.

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