August 30, 2002
Investigators have traced the Lane County Fair E. coli outbreak that has now sickened more than 50 people to the sheep and goat exposition halls, public health officials said Thursday.
Fairgoers who went only into the other animal barns are not at risk from the disease, they said. Investigators said they've also ruled out the food concessions as a possible source of the outbreak.
The number of reported cases increased to 59 Thursday, up from 54 the day before, with 50 cases confirmed by laboratory testing. It's the largest E. coli outbreak in state history.
Because the incubation period after exposure to the E. coli bacteria is typically two to seven days, public health officials said they don't expect any new cases directly related to fair exposure. The fair ran Aug. 13-18.
But secondary infections remain a concern, and health officials said hand-washing is key to preventing a spread of the disease.
"We want to reiterate that transmission of this infection is spread through a fecal-oral route," said Karen Gillette, Lane County Public Health manager. "The best protection is hand washing, especially before handling food, eating, or putting hands in the mouth."
Adults should supervise young children when the children wash their hands, officials said.
There are hundreds of strains of the bacterium Escherichia coli, most of which are harmless, but one particularly virulent strain, called O157:H7, has become a growing public health threat since it first emerged in 1982. Children, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems are most at risk from the bacteria.
Five children exposed to E. coli at the Lane County Fair remained hospitalized at Doernbecher's Children's Hospital in Portland.
Three are in fair condition, including 23-month-old Carson Walter and 4-year-old Mary Martha Calhoun, both of Eugene. The names and conditions of the other two children were not disclosed, at their parents' request, hospital officials said.
One other child, a 10-year-old boy, is being treated at Legacy Emanuel Children's Hospital in Portland and was in fair condition, a nursing supervisor said.
All are suffering from hemolytic uremic syndrome, or HUS, a potentially fatal complication of E. coli infection that causes the kidneys to fail.
Four families with children sickened by E. coli at the fair have contacted Marler Clark, a Seattle law firm that specializes in litigating E. coli cases. At this point, the families are just seeking information about HUS, attorney Bill Marler said.
Marler said he's litigated several hundred HUS cases in the past 10 years, including the 1993 Jack in the Box case, which sickened 700 people and killed four children in four Western states.
Public health officials are advising people with symptoms of E. coli infection - stomach cramps and bloody diarrhea - to see a doctor, and physicians to test those patients for E. coli.