A team of veterinarians and investigators from the state agriculture department tested a number of animals that were at three fairs that are suspected to be the source of an E. coli outbreak that has affected 24 confirmed victims in 6 Florida counties with 40 additional suspected cases, but have not yet been able to match any samples to the one found in the victims.
The investigation into the outbreak of hemolytic uremic syndrome, a life-threatening complication of the virulent 0157:H7 strain of E. coli, centers on individuals who attended the Florida State Fair, the Florida Strawberry Festival or the Central Florida Fair and visited the petting zoos at those fairs. The petting zoos for all three fairs were provided by AgVenture Farm Tours.
“As the investigation continues we are leaning more and more toward Ag-Venture, the petting zoo at all three festivals,” said Doc Kokol, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Health.
Although the investigation is focusing on animals at the fair, contaminated food and water is another possible source health officials are examining.
Veterinarian Jeff Bender, a researcher at the University of Minnesota. and Liz Compton, a spokeswoman for the agriculture department, both emphasize that there are both benefits – such as emotional bonding – and risks to human/animal contacts and that those risks must be weighed and minimized. The single most important thing when you visit (fairs and) animal exhibits is hand-washing.