Beware pigs with goop in their eyes at the fair: New flu virus can pass from pigs to people

I’ve been listening to people preach petting zoo safety for 15 years, along with all kinds of food safety gospel, and it’s all faith-based.

Elizabeth Weise of USA Today reports a cluster of flu cases linked to contact with pigs has doctors at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warning people to wash up and avoid eating around animals as they attend county and state fairs.

The new influenza strain sickened at least 12 people last week. All cases involved recent contact with pigs at agricultural fairs. Hawaii and Indiana each has one case, and 10 were linked to last week’s Butler County Fair in Ohio. Four other cases have been linked to a county fair in Indiana that ran July 8-14. None resulted in hospitalization or death.

The new flu goes by the name influenza A (H3N2) variant, or H3N2v, and was first identified in humans a year ago, says Joseph Bresee of the CDC Influenza Division. Of the 29 cases that have been reported so far, 80% "had swine contact before getting ill and most of that contact was at county fairs," he said.

To avoid H3N2v, people attending agricultural fairs and other events involving swine should take these precautions, CDC says:

• Wash hands with soap and water before and after exposure to animals.
• Avoid eating, drinking or putting anything in the mouth in animal areas.
• Don’t take food or drink into animal areas.
• Pregnant women, young children, the elderly and those with chronic illnesses should avoid exposure to animal areas.
• If you develop flu symptoms after attending an agricultural fair, tell your doctor.
• Avoid sick pigs.

How do you know whether a pig is sick? Look for "a pig that’s got a runny nose, goop in their eyes or they’re standing away from other pigs in the enclosure," says Lisa Ferguson, a veterinarian with the Department of Agriculture’s National Animal Health Policy Program.

More rock, less BS.

Ethiopian food vendor at Santa Fe festival thought to be source of illnesses

I’m in Providence for the International Association for Food Protection’s annual meeting. It’s sort of like Comicon for the food safety nerds. I left for the conference yesterday and missed out on my neighborhood’s yearly block party. Dani told me that there was a bunch of great side dishes and a 130lb pig that was slow cooked overnight. And not a lot of temperature control.

Festivals, community dinners and temporary events have had their share of outbreaks  (Taste of Chicago in 2007, Folklorama in 2010 and numerous fundraisers and community dinners). With community dinners there usually a bunch of well-meaning folks who may not always know or follow best practices.

Often at festivals and other events there are folks at booths who are not full-time food handlers, dealing with lineups, makeshift heat sources and poor access to handwashing facilities. Sometimes folks get sick as a result.

According The New Mexican, health officials are investigating a cluster of illnesses associated with eating at the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market.

Department of Health epidemiologist Joan Baumach said Thursday that the department has received reports of stomach illness from about 11 people, all of whom said they ate at the market. Baumach said Health Department staff are trying to determine if the illness was caused by a bacteria or virus while the Environment Department is trying to pinpoint the source.

Market organizers and several of those affected have said the sickness — the symptoms of which are diarrhea, stomach cramps and fever — is thought to have come from the Almaz Ethiopian Kitchen food booth.

“This booth was inspected,” said the market’s executive director, Charlene Cerny. “And [an employee] said he ate the thing that made people sick in the morning, so we are trying to figure out what happened. It’s really, sadly enough, a labor of love for the owner [Almaz Tesffimichal]. This is the only event she does all year.”

Frank Fiore, acting chief of the Environment Department Health Bureau, said all 23 of the booths that sold food or drinks at the market were inspected Saturday morning before the market opened.

A copy of the inspection report related to the Ethiopian Kitchen shows no violations. In fact, the sheet notes that the temperatures of the food at that time were all above 160 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature at which, Fiore said, most pathogens die. The sheet did contain the note “test strips needed.”

Baumach said her staff is analyzing stool samples and conducting laboratory tests for things such as salmonella or e.coli. The results of those tests should be ready in a day or two, she said."

Fewer fundraisers, more E. coli prevention, the kind that works

WBTV reports family and friends are rallying together to help raise money for two-year-old Hunter Tallent, one of several people who became sick with E. coli after attending the North Carolina State Fair in Raleigh. The state traced the outbreak back to a livestock barn at the fairgrounds.

The family is holding the fundraiser to help raise money to cover Hunter’s medical bills from his hospital stay. The family says the state has not stepped in to help.

The event is called Hunter’s Angels and will take place Saturday at 10 a.m. through noon Sunday at Cole Creek Arena in Casar.

In Pennsylvania, three-year-old Avala Pierce of Chambersburg contracted an E. coli-related illness after a visit to Cowans Gap this summer.

She spent weeks in the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, followed by a month on kidney dialysis. She has ongoing seizures, has suffered a stroke, and has some mobility issues, prompting Mercersburg campers to help out.

Kent and Dee Saunders, owners of Saunderosa Campground, Little Cove Road, Mercersburg, along with their campers, held an auction and other fundraisers during the camping season to raise money to help offset the costs of Pierce’s illness.

In late summer and through the fall, the Saunders were able to give the family $1,000.

The child and her family were invited to the annual campground meal Dec. 17.

After the meal, Santa Claus paid a visit, during which the campers presented the family with an additional $400 to help with Christmas.

Cowan’s Gap will be open for all activities in 2012, according to a Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources spokesman.

Routine E. coli testing at Cowans Gap State Park has resumed, after a period of intensified testing for the source of bacteria that the Pennsylvania Department of Health said sickened at least 18 people.

Although the source of E. coli O157 at the 1,085-acre Fulton County park wasn’t found, state officials believe it originated from human feces. They plan to use signs and handouts to emphasize proper hygiene when bathing and swimming.

An engineering study done in conjunction with testing found DCNR needed to upgrade one of two below-grade wells at Cowans Gap State Park.

Investigation continues in NC E. coli O157 outbreak

State health officials continued through the weekend to investigate 24 cases of suspected E. coli infections with links to the North Carolina State Fair.

Officials have confirmed that eight of the cases are the O157:H7 strain of E. coli; five people have been hospitalized, three with kidney failure.

Health officials are continuing their detective work to pinpoint the source of the bacteria, by interviewing the affected people as well as fairgoers who did not get sick, according to Julie Henry, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services.

North Carolina boy, 2, battles E. coli after day at fair

A 2-year-old Cleveland County boy remained hospitalized Friday as state officials work to pinpoint the cause of an apparent outbreak of E. coli that has sickened the toddler and many others across North Carolina.

Hunter Tallent of Shelby underwent a third day of dialysis treatments in Charlotte on Friday. His is one of 26 E. coli-related cases the state is investigating. North Carolina health officials said all but three people had visited the state fair in Raleigh.

Hunter is the only victim reported from the Charlotte region, and one of five hospitalized on Friday, according to state health officials.

Hunter and his parents, Lindsay and James Tallent, went to the fair Oct. 15. A few days later, their youngest son fell ill with nausea and diarrhea. He wouldn’t move around much.

Tests have confirmed that 10 of the 26 suspected cases were caused by E. coli; the rest remain under investigation, Division of Public Health officials said in a statement. Public health officials say they consider the State Fair to be the probable cause for the outbreak and plan to talk with some attendees to try to determine the specific source.

A petting zoo was the source of a 2004 E. coli outbreak at the N.C. State Fair that sickened 108 people.

Lindsay Tallent says the family strolled through the barns to look at cows and other animals but says they did not touch any animals. Hunter ate a hot dog, corn dog, some pizza and ice cream, and drank lemonade, his mom said.

Doctors are not sure how long Hunter will remain in the hospital.

Good and bad of Ekka animal areas

We’ve been immersing ourselves in Brisbane culture. Saturday it was an Aussie rules football game – my second favorite sport because of the speed and violence aggressiveness after ice hockey. Basketball and baseball would be far more interesting if there was full body contact.

Today was a state holiday in Queensland so we joined 70,000 others for People’s Day at the Ekka – the Royal Queensland Show, originally called the Brisbane Exhibition and usually shortened to Ekka.

Ekka runs over 10 days and is similar to American-style state fairs or the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto: bad food, hucksters of various wares, a large midway, and the best livestock from across the state.

There was a petting zoo, a short of controlled-chaos the like of which I’d never seen (right, exactly as shown) where hundreds of parents and their kids roamed in a large pit with goats, sheep, cattle, and shelled out some cash to feed the animals from a cup. Kids were crying and falling in poop, animals were scarfing down food, parents were interested in the free hat upon departure from the enclosed area.

Both hand sanitation and handwashing stations were available at the departure point, which was good, although reminders could have been more graphic: the compliance rate appeared low.

Other areas of the livestock pens included cattle and goats, where contact was encouraged but no handwashing signs or facilities were available. One budding entrepreneur – the dude in the black hat — offered cuddle-a-goat for $1.

“You two go in and I’ll give him $1 and take your picture.”

“That will be $2 for two.”

No handwashing. Bad.

A table of petting zoo related outbreaks is available at

Measures to prevent disease associated with animals in public settings, 2011

Run a petting zoo? A state fair? Farm visits? Then this is the most comprehensive summary of everything to be done so people don’t barf.

It’s a tad more than signs that say, “Wash your hands.”

The National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians, Inc. (NASPHV) along with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and a bunch of other public and animal health groups have updated guidelines for interacting with animals. The summary is below. The complete report is available at

Our table of petting zoo outbreaks is available at

Certain venues encourage or permit the public to be in contact with animals, resulting in millions of human-animal interactions each year. These settings include county or state fairs, petting zoos, animal swap meets, pet stores, feed stores, zoologic institutions, circuses, carnivals, educational farms, livestock-birthing exhibits, educational exhibits at schools and child-care facilities, and wildlife photo opportunities. Although human-animal contact has many benefits, human health problems are associated with these settings, including infectious diseases, exposure to rabies, and injuries. Infectious disease outbreaks have been caused by Escherichia coli O157:H7, Salmonella species, Cryptosporidium species, Coxiella burnetii, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, ringworm, and other pathogens. Such outbreaks have substantial medical, public health, legal, and economic effects.

This report provides recommendations for public health officials, veterinarians, animal venue staff members, animal exhibitors, visitors to animal venues, physicians, and others concerned with minimizing risks associated with animals in public settings. The recommendation to wash hands is the most important for reducing the risk for disease transmission associated with animals in public settings. Other important recommendations are that venues prohibit food in animal areas and include transition areas between animal areas and nonanimal areas, visitors receive information about disease risk and prevention procedures, and animals be properly cared for and managed. These updated 2011 guidelines provide new information on the risks associated with amphibians and with animals in day camp settings, as well as the protective role of zoonotic disease education.

Iowa Scarecrow Fest food safety

The Scarecrow Fest in Akron, Iowa, has one of the better names for the various fall festivals.

Michelle Clausen Rosendahl, of the Siouxland District Health told

Le Mars Daily Sentinel, "In Iowa for the most part, if you’re selling food, you have to have a license to do that.”

For short events like the Akron Scarecrow Festival, vendors can purchase a temporary food license. Vendors buy the licenses the day of the event if a district health representative is present to sell them.

They cost $33.50.

Rosendahl said the district health office doesn’t always know when food vendors are going to be at an event, and health officials request that event organizers notify them.

Glenn Eckert, an environmental specialist with Siouxland District Health said, "If we know there is a festival going on, we’ll stop in and check the vendors. There’s lots of things that go on during weekends in smaller towns we don’t even know about."

Things going on in small towns like in a David Lynch movie?

One of the biggest things district health officials see is food vendors that don’t have a place to wash hands right where they are working.

"If they have any kind of food or beverages that are not prepackaged, they would have to have a handwashing station," Rosendahl said. "It doesn’t have to be a sink with actual running water."

Using hand sanitizer is not enough to take the place of washing hands, Eckert said.

The district health website gives instructions as to how to set up a temporary handwashing station.

The health inspectors also will want to know where the food being sold came from.

"It has to come from a licensed or approved source. If they have meat we would look at if it’s inspected meat," Rosendahl said.

Inspectors also want to know where food was prepared.

"In this situation, it’s not allowed for food to be prepared at home and brought to a temporary food stand and sold, with a couple exception of some non-potentially-hazardous baked goods," Rosendahl said. "We don’t know what issues may be in the home. It’s not an inspected kitchen."

A non-profit organization can serve food one day per week on its premises without a temporary license.

That means, for example, at a church potluck, people can bring food prepared at home, and no temporary food license is needed.

Maybe water shouldn’t be bought from a place named, ‘Hunky Bill’s;’ PNE employee hospitalized after drinking spiked bottle of water

A Pacific National Exhibition employee – that’s like the state fair they have in Vancouver, which is in Canada — was hospitalized Thursday night after buying and drinking a bottle of water at the fair tainted with what is thought to be ammonium chloride.

The Vancouver Sun reports that just after 11 p.m. Thursday, the PNE employee experienced dizziness and muscle weakness and was taken to hospital 30 minutes after drinking a bottle of water from Hunky Bill’s concession inside the fair, Vancouver Police spokeswoman Jana McGuinness said in a press release.

Upon later inspection, it was apparent that the bottle of Dasani water contained small holes where a syringe had apparently been inserted and the substance injected in what PNE spokeswoman Laura Ballance called a single isolated incident.

The Vancouver Police Department is investigating the incident and, according to Vancouver Coastal Health spokeswoman Anna Marie D’Angelo, there have been no other reports of similar illnesses to Vancouver Coastal Health at this time.

E. coli cases linked to fair in Michigan UP

Traverse City, Michigan, is sorta famous in food safety circles because a 1982 outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 was the first time the bug was identified as a cause of human disease, after 47 people in and Traverse City and White City, Oregon, developed severe stomach disorders after eating hamburgers at McDonald’s outlets.

Reporting on E. coli O157:H7 in the New York Times began on 8 October 1982 with prompt coverage of this first known outbreak. Researchers at the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said the bacterium associated with the outbreaks was normally killed by cooking. The next day, federal epidemiologists characterized the disease as an intestinal ailment that had not proven fatal and was not a major public health hazard ; yet by Nov. 5, 1982 another 29 cases were reported.

In 1983, CDC issued a report on the Oregon and Michigan outbreaks and by 1984, the first report on the behavior of the organism and possible control measures appeared.

Today, the Grand Traverse County Health Department reported it had received reports of three probable cases of shigatoxin-producing E. coli in the past week.

All cases were in children and all three attended the Northwestern Michigan Fair in Grand Traverse County between August 9 and August 13.

The onset of symptoms, including bloody diarrhea, were between August 15 and August 17.

Dr. Michael Collins, Medical Director for the Grand Traverse County Health Department said,

"Considering the number of animals in close proximity to people at that venue, it seems likely that their infections were contracted there. Though we will probably never know exactly which animal or animals were involved as sources.”

The water supply at the Fairgrounds was tested prior to the event and will be re-tested for possible contamination. Area physicians were also notified and encouraged to obtain stool cultures for individuals with severe or bloody diarrhea.