The Associated Press reported today that North Carolina health officials have confirmed that 17 people have been infected with E. coli, a highly contagious bacteria that commonly lives inside of animals. Ten additional cases are suspected, the state Department of Health and Human Services said Tuesday. At least 14 of the cases have ties to the State Fair petting zoo, health officials reported Monday.
That theory remains in question, though, because two people infected in Mecklenburg County got sick in early October, well before the Oct. 14 fair opening.
From the article:
“It’s going to be tough” to trace the source, said state epidemiologist Dr. Jeffrey Engel.
The victims are mostly children from across the state: Chatham, Cleveland, Durham, Harnett, Lee, Mecklenburg, Wake, Wilson and Union counties. State officials have sent the stricken families a 14-page survey, asking where the victims had been, what they had eaten and with whom they had come in contact in the days before becoming sick.
Scientists at the state laboratory are running DNA tests of the bacteria that infected the victims to determine whether the cases are related. Results might be available later this week.
The petting zoo had goats and sheep, animals that carry E. coli in their intestines. The bacteria is passed to humans through feces.
Testing on the animals has not occurred, because the link to the petting zoos has not been confirmed.
Agriculture Department officials said they have contacted the two firms that ran the petting zoos during the 10-day fair. One company, Commerford and Sons, has headed to its next show in South Carolina. The other, Crossroads Farms, only does a few shows a year.
“I’m not sure what actions they are taking,” said Brian Long, an Agriculture Department spokesman. “They are aware that there are cases in North Carolina, and that the State Fair is a commonality in some of those cases. We’re waiting to hear some determination from public health at this point.”
It’s unclear what the state would do if the cases are linked to one of the petting zoos.