Fairgoer E. coli cases on rise


Outbreak: As many as 39 infections are reported, mostly in youngsters, with three taken to Doernbecher Children's Hospital.

More than 30 Lane County fairgoers, most or all of them young people, have been diagnosed with E. coli infection, Lane County's health officer said Sunday.

Thirty-one of 39 reported cases have been confirmed, Dr. Sarah Hendrickson said. She said she suspects all 39 ultimately will be confirmed and that the number could continue to rise slightly.

At least three patients initially admitted to Sacred Heart Medical Center in Eugene have been transported to Doernbecher Children's Hospital in Portland, Sacred Heart spokesman Brian Terrett said. One of the three was a 22-month-old girl.

Two of six patients admitted to Sacred Heart were still at the hospital Sunday night in fair condition, Terrett said. Five were children and one was 19.

It's not believed that any of the patients, including those at Doernbecher, face life-threatening symptoms, Terrett said.

County health officials, meanwhile, plan to meet with state epidemiologist Bill Keene this morning to review the situation, which as recently as last Thursday appeared limited to only two or three people.

E. coli bacteria are everywhere, including the intestines of humans and animals. The germs are transmitted orally. Most strains are harmless, but some cause severe diarrhea, cramps and kidney problems, and children are particularly susceptible.

It's believed that most or all of those infected attended the Lane County Fair, which ended a week ago Sunday.

"This looks very much fair-related," Hendrickson said, adding that people may have contracted the infection if they failed to wash their hands after petting an animal that carried the germs.

Warren Wong, the fair board's managing director, said fair officials have provided Keene with maps of the fairgrounds, including the location of animal venues, food booths and concession stands.

Keene also has been given a list of every person who had an animal exhibit at the fair, Wong said. He said he believes that Keene and other health officials have compiled and begun giving a four-page questionnaire to infected people, family members, exhibitors and others, in hopes of determining the exact source of infection.

Wong said fair officials were made aware of a nasty E. coli strain before last year's fair and so took several actions, including installing portable hand washing units at all animal venues. The units were again in place at this year's fair, he said.

Hendrickson said the particular strain involved in the current outbreak, dubbed 0127, doesn't respond well to antibiotics or over- the-counter anti-diarrhea medications. Sufferers should not take such medicines, she said.

Patients should drink lots of fluids, make sure they aren't dehydrated, and wash their hands regularly, she said.

In most cases, symptoms emerge three to five days after exposure. Because the fair closed eight days ago, not too many new cases should emerge, Hendrickson said.

However, a small percentage don't show symptoms until much later. In 5 percent to 15 percent of cases, patients develop an intestinal disease known as hemolytic uremic syndrome, which affects kidney function and can be fatal, Hendrickson said.