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Third fair linked to petting zoo E. coli outbreak that sickened 22

TALLAHASSEE -- Officials have linked a potentially deadly E. coli outbreak to a third central Florida fair, saying Thursday that DNA tests have shown the same organism also may have infected people who attended the Florida State Fair in Tampa in February.

Officials say 22 people _ mostly children in central Florida _ are confirmed to have been infected by a particular strain of the E. coli bacteria and some of them have developed a potentially fatal follow-up disease that affects the kidneys.

Most attended the Central Florida Fair in Orlando, or the Strawberry Festival in Plant City in March, but Health Secretary John Agwunobi said Thursday that at least one person is believed to have contracted the infection at the fair in Tampa in mid-February.

Agwunobi also said officials are becoming convinced that the outbreak probably resulted from contact with animals at petting zoos at the fairs, because it's the only common element between all three festivals.

While he said other causes haven't been definitively ruled out, one company, Ag-Venture Farm Shows of Plant City, provided the animals for the petting zoos at all three, Agwunobi said.

"It's increasingly clear to us that one of the few, if not the only, bridging event appears to be a very specific petting zoo _ Ag-Venture," Agwunobi said. "We have a very strong suspicion that there is an association with this petting zoo."

The company hasn't returned calls from The Associated Press. Health officials say the company is cooperating with the Department of Agriculture in the investigation and the animals who were at the three fairs have been voluntarily quarantined.

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