State Ends Probe on E. coli

Due to the fact that there have been almost no new cases of E. coli related to the State Fair outbreak since Nov. 12, state health officials have ceased response-level operation of the Public Health Command Center.

There were at least 41 confirmed cases, including a 13-year-old Moore County girl, who attended the fair. There were 106 cases under investigation.

Katie Maness, an eighth-grader at The O’Neal School, was hospitalized at FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital in Pinehurst and was later transferred to UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill after developing complications that could have caused kidney failure.

She was released from the hospital on Nov. 6 and has since returned to school.

Although state health officials continue to investigate the exact site at the State Fair where the E. coli outbreak could have originated, the active surveillance for suspect cases of illness related to the outbreak has been discontinued.

The ongoing investigation determined that the source of the outbreak was last month’s State Fair in Raleigh.

The case definition was limited only to people who attended the State Fair between Oct. 15 and Oct. 24 and who had onset of diarrhea (three or more loose stools in a 24-hour period for two or more days) between Oct. 15 and Nov. 9 that was not attributable to another cause.

“Although the illness is often associated with eating undercooked ground beef, we suspect these cases may have been contracted through direct contact with live animals,” said state epidemiologist Dr. Jeffrey Engel. “Outbreaks are often associated with fairs and petting farms; however, we are still exploring every possible source.”

Symptoms associated with E. coli including diarrhea (loose or watery stools), bloody diarrhea, severe abdominal cramping, nausea and dehydration.

Sickness caused by E. coli may also cause hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a serious complication that occurs in high-risk people such as children and that can cause kidney failure, seizures and in some cases death. Maness developed that condition, which her doctors said happens in about 5 to 10 percent of these cases.

Engel said residents can help prevent contracting or spreading the disease by practicing prevention measures, especially in schools and child day care facilities.

“The best way to reduce the risk of getting E. coli, especially if a friend or family member is sick with the disease, is careful and diligent hand-washing,” he said. “Teachers and school officials will want to make sure they have plenty of soap and paper towels for their students. If teachers notice a student who appears to have any of the symptoms associated with E. coli, they should contact the parents as soon as possible.”

E. coli is associated with petting zoos because animals carry the bacteria in their intestines. People pick up E. coli by eating contaminated meat or through contact with manure, animals or contaminated surfaces. A number of the cases identified by the state had been in contact with farm animals; however, public health disease investigators have not yet determined the exact source or sources of the human cases.