E. coli task force to recommend no petting zoos at county fair

Two-year-old Gage Lefevers died on Oct. 12, 2012 after acquiring E. coli O157:H7 at the Cleveland Count, North Carolina, fair. At least 105 additional people were sickened, primarily children.

According to wsoctv.com, a task force created to come up with ideas to keep people from getting sick at the Cleveland County fair will gage.lefevers.oct_.12-249x300release its plan in a month.

Hannah Roberts, 5, approves of the idea to end petting zoos at the Cleveland County Fair. 

She is one of the dozens of children hospitalized after being infected with E. coli at the fair last year.

“No amount of money or fun is worth seeing your child fight for her life, and so I am very, very thrilled that there are going to be no more petting zoos there,” said Hannah’s mother Tracey Roberts.

Tracey Roberts joined a class action law suit against the fair.

“That’s really what this whole effort has been about making sure this doesn’t happen to another family,” Tracey Roberts said.

Last week operators installed 12-inch drainage pipes at the fairgrounds to quickly drain runoff water.

State health officials decided that rainwater helped to spread E. coli last year.

Members of the E. coli Task Force said they have more recommendations for changes at the fair. They plan to announce their findings on June 1.

Fair operators believe recommendations from the task force could become a standard for other fairs.

They said recently an organization of fair operators from across the state met and talked at length about the E. coli task force and they are waiting to hear the task force suggestions.

A table of petting zoo outbreaks is available at http://bites.ksu.edu/petting-zoos-outbreaks.

A list of risk factors at petting zoos and animal contact events at fairs can be found in: Erdozain G, Kukanich K, Chapman B, Powell D. 2012. Observation of public health risk behaviours, risk communication and hand hygiene at Kansas and Missouri petting zoos – 2010-2011. Zoonoses Public Health. 2012 Jul 30. doi: 10.1111/j.1863-2378.2012.01531.x. [Epub ahead of print]

Handwashing still isn’t enough at petting zoos, no matter what the owner says

In the fall of 2009, an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak at Godstone Petting Farm in the U.K resulted in 93 illnesses – primarily little kids.

An initial report by Professor George Griffin found that it could have been avoided if visitors had been kept away from animal feces, and was made worse by the slow reaction of health authorities before the petting farm in Surrey was closed.

Eight of the children infected required dialysis and some have been left with permanent kidney damage. At one point during the outbreak victims were occupying all the children’s acute renal support services in London.

As part of the response, U.K. health types recommended handwashing stations with soap and water only (no wipes or sanitizers).

But while some studies suggest inadequate handwashing facilities may have contributed to disease outbreaks, or washing hands was protective against illness, others suggest bugs like E. coli O157 may be aerosolized and inhaled, thus not prevented with handwashing.

In the 2009 outbreak, a bunch of U.K. researchers concluded that in the Godstone outbreak, “handwashing conferred no demonstrable protective effect.

“Moreover, from the findings of many previous published studies, it must be assumed that all petting or open farms are potentially high-risk environments for the acquisition of VTEC O157 infection.”

So Beth McNair, the mother of a 12-year-old who was hospitalized from complications of E. coli contracted at the Cleveland County Fair, sorta has a point when she says more needs to be done to prevent outbreaks.

“Well, it’s been very difficult. I mean just, one day you’re going along with your daily lives, then all of the sudden you run into this brick wall, and it stops your life.”

Jordan McNair was released from Levine Children’s Hospital last week, after being in the hospital for almost a month.

WSOCTV.com reports that the Zootastic Park in Troutman is getting ready for its annual light show and petting zoo starting Friday.

“E. coli always worries me,” said owner Scottie Brown. “What’s most important is for people to know that you got to wash your hands. It’s not about the animals, it’s about people too.”

Brown said his zoo has handwashing stations all around the facility.

Brown sorta misses the point: handwashing is never enough.

A table of petting zoo outbreaks is available at http://bites.ksu.edu/petting-zoos-outbreaks