State health officials have now determined that’s the number of possible cases of E. coli infection or the related kidney disease, hemoleytic uremic syndrome (HUS), has jumped from 24 to 33, with several new cases being linked to a third Florida fair.
John Agwunobi, Florida Health Secretary, said Thursday that the additional cases appear to have come from the Florida State Fair in Tampa in mid-February. He also said it looks more and more like all the cases are linked to the same petting zoo – AgVenture Farm Shows.
Patients all started with diarrhea and progressively got worse. Conditions can get worse, turning into HUS, a disease that attacks and can destroy the kidneys.
Health officials have not confirmed whether petting zoo animals or a food vendor caused the outbreak, but they said they are leaning more towards the petting zoo as the source of the problem. Although the state Department of Agriculture has said AgVenture’s animals might not be the source of the outbreak, and has not ruled out the possibility that the bacteria could also come from the company’s equipment or hay.
Meanwhile, families have started to file lawsuits against the petting zoo for failing to maintain sanitary conditions.
Health officials said only those who attended the Central Florida Fair and Strawberry Festival are sick, but petting zoos across Central Florida continue to lose business. The Flagler County Fair has cancelled its petting zoo for next week, and the livestock area of the Brevard Sheriff’s Petting Zoo is also closed. At the Lake County Fair, which opens next week, organizers said they will feature a pig-racing event rather than the traditional petting zoo so that fairgoers will not have direct contact with the animals.
Some animal farms, like Barnyard Friends Animal Farm in Samsula, are closing their doors for good. Owner Donna Sue Sanders is shutting Barnyard down after schools and private parties canceled trips to her farm for fear of E. coli, despite the fact that animals at the animal farm are not linked to the E. coli outbreak. Some of the animals at Barnyard will be sold and Mason fears when that happens, she will lose the job she loves.