Isaiah Peters is usually an active little boy. The 3 1/2-year-old red-headed youngster loves to kick his soccer ball around the backyard and play “Guitar Hero.” But instead, Isaiah is lying in a hospital bed in Minneapolis, where he is fighting through a painful illness, H.U.S., a complication of E. coli that can cause kidney
I’m quoted by Beacon Journal medical writer Tracy Wheeler’s recent article Avoid Zoo Fever, which addresses the issue of fair safety precautions — like handwashing — to avoid getting E. coli at petting zoos and fairs. She also addresses the hidden risks, which handwashing won’t help.
From the article:
Sometimes, though, the risk is
The North Carolina Department of Agriculture has just taken a bold, yet small, step to try and prevent a repeat of last year’s outbreak that sickened nearly 100 people, mostly children, who were stricken with E. coli O157:H7 after visiting a petting zoo at the North Carolina State Fair.
The Department of Agriculture announced new guidelines for human-animal interaction at fairs and petting zoos yesterday. It will require the separation of animals and children at petting zoos, as well as the presence of multiple hand washing stations and warnings to the public of the risk of disease spread by animals. These guidelines all make sense, but they are only guidelines.
There’s nothing more American than a State or County Fair. From Washington and North Carolina to New York and Florida, countless numbers of children visit their local Fairs to ride the rides, feast on cotton candy and hot dogs, and visit those cute farm animals at the petting zoos. Unfortunately, some of the children will get very sick from doing a very simple act – petting those animals. And the sickest ones, most of them very small children, may be close to death before their doctors identify the cause – a relatively new strain of deadly bacteria known as E. coli O157:H7.
So what do we do? Banish the county fair? Close down petting zoos? Fair organizers and petting zoo owners need to take some rather simple and inexpensive precautions. North Carolina Department of Agriculture has just taken a bold, yet small, step to try a prevent a repeat of last years nearly 100 people, again mostly children, who were stricken with E. coli O157:H7 after visiting a petting zoo at the North Carolina State Fair. Separation of possibly infected animals and children is a positive step. Adding multiple hand washing stations and warning the public of the risk of disease spread by animals all makes sense, but they are only guidelines.
As spring beckons and families begin flocking to petting zoos, fairs, and other animal venues, a few people are coming down with serious illnesses. Some of the latest incidents occurred in Florida, where 60 people in 18 counties have confirmed or suspected cases of E. coli-related illness. The sources were petting zoos in three central Florida counties, and children have been the most vulnerable.
Similar incidents seem to be on the increase, says Jeff Bender, an assistant professor of veterinary public health at the Univ. of Minnesota and co-chair of a March 25, 2005, report published by Centers for Disease Control, prepared by the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians, and endorsed by the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists and the American Veterinary Medical Association.
A list of about two dozen documented incidents in the past decade or so (in IL, MN, OH, NC, NY, OH, OR, PA, TX, WA, WI, the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Ontario, and a few overseas locations) has been assembled by a Seattle law firm (Marler Clark, William Marler, 206-346-1890). Some of these incidents, which affected a total of more than 1,000 people, are highlighted in the CDC report.
Marler Clark, the Seattle law firm representing several victims of the recent Florida E. coli outbreak, is calling on legislators nation-wide to put into law requirements for the protection of petting zoo visitors.
Proposed requirements include increasing signage and warnings about health risks associated with human-animal contact, providing adequate handwashing facilities at strategic locations throughout petting zoos, and designing petting zoos with the intent of reducing the risks of human contact with animal feces. An outline of proposed requirements is available at the Marler Clark-sponsored Web site www.fair-safety.com.
“I realize the measures we are proposing might seem extreme,” said William Marler, managing partner of Marler Clark. “But we’re looking at this from the standpoint of having represented dozens of children who visited petting zoos and ended up with kidney failure and life-long medical conditions.”
As the Times reported in their article “Seattle lawyer says his client may join other cases against Ag-Venture Farm Shows,” Marler Clark filed a suit on behalf of Yvonne Miller, an Orlando mother of three, alleging Ag-Venture should have done a better job protecting fairgoers from exposure to pathogens.
As the number of people who…
On Wednesday, the Orlando Sentinel reported that at least five children were in critical condition in Orlando-area hospitals with Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome, a potentially life-threatening cause of kidney failure. All visited a petting zoo the week before they became ill.
There’s nothing more American than a petting zoo. Countless numbers of children visit petting zoos to have a hands-on experience with farm animals every year. Unfortunately, some children become ill with E. coli O157:H7 infections – the leading cause of Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome in North America. In fact, it is estimated that five to ten percent of persons who become ill with E. coli infections develop Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome.
Most people identify E. coli with undercooked ground beef, but it’s not that simple. E. coli infections are caused by the ingestion of fecal material. So a burger becomes contaminated during the slaughtering process, and children can become infected while playing with livestock that are shedding the bacteria. Just as proper sanitation in slaughterhouses is essential in preventing foodborne illness outbreaks, good hygiene and sanitation in areas where livestock are held are of utmost importance in preventing E. coli outbreaks among petting zoo visitors.
Lightning does strike the same spot twice, or even more often.
There’s nothing more American than the county fair. From Washington and California to New York and Texas, countless millions of people are visiting their local fairs to ride the rides, feast on cotton candy and hot dogs, and to visit those cute farm animals.
Unfortunately, some of the visitors to fairs will get very sick. And the sickest ones, most of them small children, may be close to death before their doctors identify the cause – a relatively new strain of deadly bacteria known as E. coli O157:H7.
Most people identify this pathogen with undercooked hamburgers from fast food restaurants. But as a lawyer who has represented thousands of victims of food-borne illness, I have learned that people, especially children, can be infected in a variety of ways – including attending a local county fair or petting zoo.
Any place where people come into contact with farm animals must be considered high risk. The track record speaks for itself. Since 1995, thirteen outbreaks of E. coli O157:H7 have been reported at fairs and petting zoos. Thousands have been sickened. Many escape with a bad case of diarrhea and cramps. But some, mostly kids, have suffered permanent damage to their kidneys.
And some have died.