petting zoo ecoli outbreakThe Orlando Sentinel reported yesterday that five children are in critical condition at Orlando hospitals with kidney failure that may have been caused by infections they picked up at area petting zoos. A sixth child has been treated and released after suffering from the same kidney ailment.
The Orange County Health Department says the infections are the subject of a large-scale investigation by a team of state and county health officials who are working urgently to determine how the youngsters became infected.
One theory is that they were exposed to E. coli through the feces of the petting-zoo animals. As recently as December, a petting zoo in North Carolina was linked to an outbreak of the kidney condition that sickened more than 100 children.
The four children at Florida Hospital Orlando visited zoos at the Central Florida Fair, which ended a 10-day run in Orlando on March 13. A fifth child at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children & Women visited a petting zoo at the Florida Strawberry Festival in Plant City, which also ran from March 3-13.
Officials still are checking whether a sixth child, who was treated and released from Arnold Palmer about four weeks ago, had any exposure to petting-zoo animals. The child’s case did not draw attention at the time, but officials are now interviewing the family to get more details, according to Dr. Jorge Ramirez, a pediatric nephrologist with Arnold Palmer.
The potentially dangerous kidney condition – called hemolytic uremic syndrome or HUS – is a rare complication arising from an initial infection most commonly associated with Escherichia coli, a bacterium found in undercooked beef or contaminated food, but these illnesses can also occur at petting zoos through direct exposure to animal feces. Young children, more apt to pop a dirty pacifier into their mouths, are at a high risk for E. coli when they visit a petting zoo. (See also: