Last Saturday, the County of San Diego Communications Office reported four pediatric cases of E. coli linked to contact with animals at the San Diego County Fair. The impacted children visited the fair in Del Mar, California, between June 8 through June 15. Sadly, a two-year-old boy was hospitalized and died from complications related to the infection caused by the Shiga-toxin-producing E. coli (STEC). The other three cases were not hospitalized and impacted children up to 13 years of age.
County public health officer Wilma J. Wooten stated, “Our sympathies go out to the family of the child that died from this illness. While most people recover from this illness without complications, 5 to 10 percent of people diagnosed with STEC develop the life-threatening kidney infection.”
According to the County’s statement, those with a STEC infection will begin to feel ill 3 to 4 days after ingesting food or drink contaminated with E. coli bacteria. Some experience symptoms within a one- to 10-day window. Symptoms of a STEC infection typically include severe stomach cramps, watery or bloody diarrhea (three or more episodes in 24 hours), and vomiting. A mild fever may or may not be present.
A New York Times article reported that the San Diego County Fair has more than 2,900 animals and animal-related activities including pig races and livestock shows featuring calves, rabbits, pigeons, and goats. Since the STEC infections were traced back to exposure at the fair, the animal areas were closed off to the public over the weekend, and the animals are being removed from the fairgrounds. The exact source of the E. coli transmission from animal to human has not yet been discovered. The fair’s information officer told the New York Times, “They don’t know whether it was in the livestock barn or the petting zoo. We have a number of different access points to animals.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has also reported 209 E. coli infections from contaminated ground beef and issued a food safety alert on June 19, 2019. The fair food stands that the children utilized passed reinspection.
To prevent E. coli infections from animals, the CDC recommends washing hands often, keeping food and drinks out of animal areas, and supervising children around animals.