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E. coli attorney speaks out about E. coli outbreaks at fairs, petting zoos

SEATTLE — Five children are in critical condition in Florida hospitals, and are suffering from a complication of what appears to be E. coli O157:H7 infections, known as Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS). All children visited petting zoos before the onset of symptoms and state and local health officials are working to determine the source of the outbreak.

Since 1995, there have been 13 E. coli outbreaks linked to fairs, petting zoos, and farm visits across the United States. Most recently, twelve children suffered from HUS after attending a petting zoo at the 2004 North Carolina State Fair in October and November.

“It amazes me that every time a fair or petting zoo outbreak occurs, the media reports it like this is a unique situation,” said William Marler, a Seattle attorney who has dedicated his practice to representing victims of E. coli outbreaks. “Any time children come into contact with animals that carry pathogenic bacteria like E. coli O157:H7, we’re looking at the potential for a public health emergency. Baby calves and goats are cute, but they also pose a serious health threat to kids.”

Mr. Marler’s firm, Marler Clark, sponsors a Web site on fair and petting zoo safety, which provides information on E. coli outbreaks linked to petting zoos. He spoke at a meeting of the International Association of Fairs and Expositions in November – one month after the North Carolina State Fair E. coli outbreak, which was traced to interaction with animals at a petting zoo. He cautioned fair and petting zoo operators to take extra precautions to protect visitors from potential exposure to E. coli and other pathogenic bacteria that are shed by farm animals.

“Apparently fair and petting zoo operators still haven’t gotten the message that HUS is a severe, life-threatening illness. I’ve sat with parents in hospital rooms while they watched their children’s bodies be ravaged by this disease,” Marler continued. “There is no treatment for HUS – it just has to run its course, and the worst part about watching your child suffer through HUS is that it is totally preventable.”

E. coli O157:H7 infections are characterized by the onset of acute stomach cramps and bloody diarrhea. Five to ten percent of people who become ill with E. coli O157:H7 infections, mostly children, develop HUS.

BACKGROUND: William Marler represented Brianne Kiner in her $15.6 million E. coli settlement with Jack in the Box in 1993. Since that time, he and his legal partners at Marler Clark have represented over 1,000 E. coli victims. Marler Clark represented 24 victims of the 2002 Lane County Fair in Oregon. The firm currently represents nine victims of the 2004 North Carolina State Fair E. coli outbreak, and numerous other people who became ill with E. coli infections after exposure to contaminated food.

More about the Florida petting zoo E. coli outbreak can be found in the Case News area of this site.

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