The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services confirmed Wednesday that the recent State Fair in Raleigh was the source of an E. Coli outbreak that has potentially infected 107 people–41 of whom have tested positive for the bacteria. A majority of the infected are children, 11 of whom have already developed a serious complication known as hemolytic-uremic syndrome. This syndrome can be deadly.
More than 800,000 people visited the fair in Raleigh from Oct. 15 to 24. While the specific source of the outbreak remains unknown, initial results have led investigators to blame the fair’s two petting zoos, Crossroads Farm and Commerford and Sons, but officials are still inspecting food vendors and other animal exhibits.
“There’s been a lot of speculation that [the E. Coli] could have come from contact with animals at the state fair,” said Brian Long, director of Public Affairs at the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. “The petting zoos were operated by independent companies and they’ve both operated petting booths at the state fair for several years. They are obviously quite concerned and are monitoring the situation closely as well.”
Commerford said animals from the fair had been separated and were under observation, but she remained skeptical of the situation.
“I’ve spoken to different veterinarians, and everybody has said that its virtually impossible to have an outbreak of E. Coli like that from petting an animal,” she said.
But epidemiologist Dr. Keith Kaye said the petting zoos remained a possibility to be the origin of the outbreak. “When you have animals in a closed setting like that and all those kids rolling around, it favors a high transmission rate,” Kaye said. “Will we find the smoking pig, so to say? Maybe not, but these sort of outbreaks have occurred before.”