Elizabethtown Bladen Journal reports that nearly two months after cases of E-coli began springing up among state residents, investigators with the North Carolina Division of Public Health have determined the source of the majority of the cases.
Since most of the cases involved individuals who had attended the North Carolina State Fair in October, investigators early on surmised that the outbreak might be linked to some entity at the fair.
After extensive environmental testing and genetic fingerprinting, the investigators now say many of the cases are linked to the Crossroads Farm Petting Zoo at the fair. According to investigators, 108 likely cases of E-coli were in people who had attended the State Fair, 43 of which were confirmed by lab tests.
Of that number, investigators say 33 cases exhibited identical genetic fingerprints. Those fingerprints matched positive to samples from the Crossroads Farm Petting Zoo site, officials state. Samples from other areas of the State Fair grounds contained no indication of the outbreak strain.
“The genetic fingerprinting supports our extensive epidemiological study, which relied on looking at people who got sick along with those who did not,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Jeffrey Engel. “This controlled study design is the gold standard for this kind of investigation.”
After comparing behaviors of those who attended the petting zoo and later became ill to those who attended and did not, investigators determined that the infections most likely came from direct contact with manure. People who had come in direct contact with manure were more likely to become infected.
Children who were sucking their thumbs or pacifiers or drinking from a sippy cup while visiting the petting zoo were also more likely to be infected.
The Division of Public Health has made several suggestions aimed at reducing the probability of such infections at petting zoos. They include restricting direct contact with animals, reducing fecal contamination, and reducing crowding of both people and animals in petting zoos.