E. coli Attorney Calls for Increased Precautions at Fairs


SEATTLE, WA - A recent outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 at the Fort Bend County Fair sickened over 15 people, and sent children to the hospital with a complication known as Hemolytic Uremic Sndrome, or HUS, which causes kidney damage. An investigation is ongoing, but health officials believe that animals carrying the E. coli bacteria are the most likely source of infection. Marler Clark, the Seattle law firm nationally recognized for its successful representation of E. coli victims, has been contacted by victims of this outbreak.

In 2000, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced several practical solutions to combat the growing concern of humans coming into physical contact with farm animals that shed the pathogenic bacteria E. coli O157:H7. William Marler, managing partner of Marler Clark, said, “It is unclear to me at this point whether the Fort Bend County fair used all the suggested procedures the CDC recommended.

“In any case, given the fact that in the last several years, E. coli outbreaks at fairs are such a common occurrence, why not test animals to see if they are carriers before they are allowed to attend the fair? A simple stool test costs only tens of dollars, and could save millions of dollars in medical expenses. The time has come for fairs to clean up their act and make exhibits safe for visitors.”

Procedures recommended by the CDC were:

  1. Persons providing public access to farm animals should inform visitors about the risk for transmission of enteric pathogens from farm animals to humans, and strategies for prevention of such transmission. This should include public information and training of facility staff. Visitors should be made aware that certain farm animals pose greater risk for transmitting enteric infections to humans than others. Such animals include calves and other young ruminant animals, young poultry, and ill animals.
  2. Venues should be designed to minimize risk. Farm animal contact is not appropriate at food service establishments and infant care settings, and special care should be taken with school-aged children. At venues where farm animal contact is desired, layout should provide a separate area where humans and animals interact and an area where animals are not allowed. Animal petting should occur only in the interaction area to facilitate close supervision and coaching of visitors. Clear separation methods such as double barriers should be present to prevent contact with animals and their environment other than in the interaction area.
  3. Hand washing facilities should be adequate. Hand washing stations should be available to both the animal-free area and the interaction area. Running water, soap, and disposable towels should be available so that visitors can wash their hands immediately after contact with the animals. Hand washing facilities should be accessible, sufficient for the maximum anticipated attendance, and configured for use by children and adults. Children aged <5 years should wash their hands with adult supervision. Staff training and posted signs should emphasize the need to wash hands after touching animals or their environment, before eating, and on leaving the interaction area. Communal basins do not constitute adequate hand washing facilities.
  4. Persons at high risk for serious infections should observe heightened precaution. Farm animals should be handled by everyone as if the animals are colonized with human enteric pathogens. However, children aged <5 years, the elderly, pregnant women, and immunocompromised persons (e.g., those with HIV/AIDS) are at higher risk for serious infections. Such persons should weigh the risks for contact with farm animals. If allowed to have contact, children aged <5 years should be supervised closely by adults, with precautions strictly enforced.

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BACKGROUND: Marler Clark has represented victims of E. coli outbreaks tied to fairs in Ohio, Wisconsin, New York, and last year’s Lane, Oregon, County Fair. The firm has extensive experience representing victims of bacterial illnesses. William Marler represented Brianne Kiner in her $15.6 million settlement with Jack in the Box in 1993. In 1998, Marler Clark resolved the Odwalla Juice E. coli outbreak for the five families whose children developed HUS and were severely injured after consuming contaminated apple juice for $12 million. Marler Clark recently secured a verdict of $4.75 million against a School District in Eastern Washington for sickening children with E. coli contaminated food. The partners at Marler Clark also speak frequently on a variety of food safety issues. Marler Clark is also proud to sponsor the informational websites www.about-ecoli.com, www.about-hus.com, and www.about-ttp.com.