According to press reports, eleven children and two adults came down with E. coli days after visiting the petting zoo at the Pacific National Exhibition this summer. A spokesman for B.C. Children’s Hospital in Vancouver confirmed Tuesday three of the 13 cases were serious enough to warrant hospital care. One child remained in hospital Tuesday in fair condition and two children have been sent home. The ages of the victims ranged from 21 months to 69 years.
Reports of E. coli linked to the PNE surfaced on the same days as reports of Great Britain’s biggest ever outbreak of E. coli spread from farm animals. A London newspaper reported 36 children had E coli after visiting a petting farm in Surrey, England; three of the children were reported to be seriously ill.
Here are some amazing quotes straight from the – excuse me – "the horses mouth:"
Petting zoos will always be a potential risk because they mix animals, little kids and poop, Dr. John Carsley, a medical health officer with Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, said yesterday in an interview….
“The innate difficulty is the clientele of petting zoos tends to be families with small children. So no matter how fastidious you want to be, and try to be, you cannot reduce the risk to zero,” Dr. Carsley said….
Officials did not announce the outbreak of E. coli. An announcement would have been pointless, Dr. Carsley said. No one was at risk to be infected after the PNE closed and, if someone was exposed to the germ but has not yet fallen ill, there is nothing that could be done to prevent an outbreak of the illness, he said. “If you have nothing to offer people, what are you going to tell them?” he said.
The majority of people who went into the barn and were exposed to the germs were at no risk, he also said. “So you are basically scaring an enormous amount of people and telling them, you might have been exposed to a potentially fatal illness about which you can do nothing,” Dr. Carsley said.
Laura Ballance, a spokesperson for the PNE, said the fair has undertaken extensive precautions to prevent the spread of disease from animals to humans. The procedures “have been successful for several decades, and for hundreds of thousands of kids who have been passing through,” she said.
When leaving the barn, children must walk through an alleyway that has washing stations with hot and cold water, and staff is there at all times telling everyone to wash their hands. Eighteen hand sanitizers are in the vicinity. Also staff receive training on E. coli, on ways to prevent the spreading of the germs, Ms. Ballance said.
“This is the most extensive [effort] you can do to prevent it, short of [staff] washing people’s hands,” she said.
And, yet it still happened.