The Florida State Fair, which ran Feb. 10-21, attracted more than 500,000 visitors. Florida Health Secretary John Agwunobi has now added that fair to the list of fairs that hired a Plant City-based petting zoo company that is the likely source of a bacterial outbreak that has sickened fairgoers across the state. The Strawberry Festival in Plant City and the Central Florida Fair in Orlando are the other two.
The only factor linking the five is that AgVenture Farm Shows provided animals for the petting zoos at fairs that they attended.
“They got it from the same place,” Agwunobi said. “We have a very strong suspicion there is an association with this petting zoo.”
The animals from AgVenture have now been quarantined.
“We have taken steps to make sure this particular petting zoo is of no further risk,” he said. “There will be no further interaction (with the public) as a result of our work with them.”
Agwunobi said there are currently 19 children and 3 adults with confirmed cases. They all suffered diarrhea, attended one of the three fairs and tested positive for the specific strain of E. coli, or hemolytic uremic syndrome, HUS, a fairly infrequent and life-threatening complication of the E. coli infection.
Agwunobi also raised a new concern, saying the suspected cases indicate the bacteria can be spread through human contact. It could be as simple as changing a diaper of a child who had diarrhea, said Agwunobi, himself a father of three young children.
He stressed that “frequent and diligent” hand washing can reduce the chance of infection.
“There are lessons we will learn,” he said. “I am of the belief that if you are taking your child to a petting zoo or farm, a very important part of the planning process must contain strict hand washing. Take very serious steps to ensure children aren’t putting their hands in their mouths or on their food. Wash their hands vigorously. I know it sounds simple, but at this point, it’s what science advises we do.”