Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention investigators are looking into cases of hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) cropping up in states other than Florida, involving tourists who attended fairs there. The life-threatening condition has stricken more than a dozen children and adults who attended the Central Florida Fair in Orlando or the Florida Strawberry Festival in Plant City.
Investigators trying to track down the source have focused on petting zoos at the fairs. Some 37 cultures taken from the animals produced E. coli. Those cultures have been sent to the state health department laboratory to determine whether it is the virulent strain that causes HUS. News of the outbreak and its possible link to animals at the fairs has hit the petting zoo industry hard.
Health department officials are looking into how the children had contracted the disease. Although most of the children had visited the petting zoos at the fairs, there are a few who had not attended the fairs at all. A five-year-old girl who was admitted last week to St Joseph’s Hospital, tested positive for HUS, and is now undergoing dialysis at Tampa General Hospital, had visited Orlando but not attended either of the fairs.
“We’re not sure that the petting zoos have anything to do with this outbreak,” said state Health Secretary John Agwunobi. The state’s top health official on Monday said livestock is just one possible source under investigation.
Currently, state health officials have revised the number of confirmed cases from 15 to 14, based on one patient’s laboratory retest coming back negative. Nine cases are in Orange County, two in Volusia and one each in Pasco, Seminole and Collier. The Pasco case involves Kayla Sutter, a 12-year-old Wesley Chapel girl who died suddenly last week at home. Sutter’s parents told investigators she had attended the Strawberry Festival. The Pasco County medical examiner has not yet established a cause of death.
Although the state numbers haven’t changed much in the past 72 hours, Florida state epidemiologist Joann Schulte calls the patients hospitalized in intensive care “the tip of the iceberg. We’re still in an active case-finding mode. It’s a moving target.”
Officials are asking parents and health care providers to be on the lookout for diarrhea – especially bloody diarrhea in children and the elderly – which can progress to HUS. Parents are urged to seek medical attention if, after diarrhea, the child becomes lethargic, puffy or has decreased urine output.