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State health investigators find cause of E. coli outbreak

State health officials said Thursday that the State Fair petting zoo was the likely source of the E.coli bacteria that gave 15 children a life-threatening kidney ailment earlier this fall.
The final report by investigators with the North Carolina Division of Public Health said North Carolina’s largest outbreak of E. coli in three years, involving 108 cases, apparently originated at the Crossroads Farm Petting Zoo exhibition at the October fair.
The report said more than half of the 108 people infected with E. coli were 5 years old or younger; two-thirds were under 18. Though most people suffered milder symptoms, including diarrhea, 15 children suffered serious reactions to toxins that collected in their kidneys. The complication can lead to kidney failure and possible death.
The Associated Press reported today:

Four of the 15 children continue to receive dialysis, said Debbie Crane, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Health and Human Services.
“The genetic fingerprinting supports our extensive epidemiological study, which relied on looking at people who got sick along with those who did not,” state epidemiologist Dr. Jeffrey Engel said.

The report said Crossroads Farm Petting Zoo “had implemented guidelines from a national group of public health veterinarians to encourage hand hygiene to protect visitors from illness. Signs and hand sanitizing stations were present.”
However, because very few E. coli bacteria can cause infection, those measures were not enough, the report said.

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