E. coli at Denver Stock Show came from kids’ area; do people know the risks with petting zoos?

The Denver Post reports that exposure to animals at Denver’s National Western Stock Show was the likely cause of an E. coli outbreak that occurred in the Denver area in January and February, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said today.

Specifically, contact with animals in the "Feed the Animals" exhibit on the third floor children’s area of the exposition center was probably where the outbreak originated, according to the extensive 15-page report.

A total of 30 cases were identified.

Children were disproportionately affected in the outbreak, suggesting a source that children would likely have more contact with than adults.

The report noted that the third floor children’s area of the expo center had a variety of exhibits geared towards children, including pony rides, a playground area, cages housing rabbits and poultry, educational exhibits, and hands-on activities.

In addition, food vendors were also located on the floor.

One of the exhibits was the "Feed the Animals" exhibit, where calves, goats, lambs, pigs and other farm animals were brought in from private owners located throughout the region. …

There were opportunities throughout the day for the visitors to feed the animals.

While feeding the animals was not a risk for illness, touching them put the visitors at higher risk of developing E. coli infection.

The investigators said that while hand sanitizer dispensers were readily available in the "Feed the Animals" area, and there were numerous signs instructing visitors to practice hand hygiene, the use of the sanitizers "was not protective against the illness."

In addition, handwashing facilities with running water, soap and paper towels were not readily available in the area.

There were no signs that warned that animals could cause disease or any that specifically cautioned against sipping from cups or eating or drinking in the animal contact areas as well as the use of strollers in that area.

The investigators suggested that such signs be posted in the future.