Ava Wheatley is thankful that her granddaughter is afraid of animals. That’s why she didn’t touch the animals at the petting zoo at the Central Florida Fair.
Her younger brothers weren’t as lucky – the two boys have picked up the potentially fatal strain of E. coli bacteria that has them both hospitalized in serious condition. The two are undergoing kidney dialysis at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children & Women. The older one was taken there Thursday after he was admitted to Halifax Medical Center March 22. And his brother went to the Orlando hospital Friday, following his admission to Halifax on Wednesday.
The two Port Orange brothers are the only confirmed Volusia County cases of the potentially fatal E. coli infection. Of the 14 confirmed cases in Orange, Seminole, Volusia, Collier and Pasco counties, nine are still hospitalized. The girl from Pasco County died shortly after visiting the Florida Strawberry Festival in Plant City.
State officials are waiting on the results from the Pasco County medical examiner to see if the girl had been infected with the particular bacterium, E.coli O157:H7, that sometimes results in the kidney disease, known as hemolytic uremic syndrome. Last year, there were about 70,000 cases of the disease that is fatal to 2 percent to 8 percent. But animals that carry the disease often appear the picture of health – as all the suspect petting zoo animals did when they were tested, said Liz Compton, a spokeswoman at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
State officials said that tests are incomplete on the animals of three petting zoos at the Plant City Strawberry Festival or the Central Florida Fair in Orlando earlier this month. State Health Secretary John Agwunobi, M.D., said the disease also could have been picked up at a dairy milking exhibition, undercooked food or simply playing in the hay.

“It’s important that people know that (this disease) is not an animal problem but a washing-your-hands problem,” Compton said. “Animals can test negative for this bacteria one day and then positive the next.” But Wheatley scoffs at the idea that it could have been anything but the petting zoo: “The three kids ate everything the same, the same everything else” except the petting zoo.