Health

Four Cases of E. coli Bacteria Linked to San Diego County Fair

E. coli bacteria
E. coli bacteria. Image source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency is reporting four confirmed or probable pediatric cases of Shiga-toxin-producing E. Coli (STEC) linked to contact with animals at the San Diego County Fair. One child has died.

HHSA Epidemiology Program and the County Department of Environmental Health are investigating the cluster of four infections. The ages of the four children range from 2 to 13 years of age. They visited the fair from June 8 to June 15 and had symptoms from June 10 to June 19. Three of the four cases were not hospitalized. However, one of the four cases, a 2-year-old boy, was hospitalized and unfortunately died on June 24, from a complication of this disease.

The source of the E. Coli bacteria is under investigation, but all children had a report of visiting the animal areas or the petting zoo, or had other animal contact at the San Diego Fair. As a result, San Diego County Fair officials have closed public access to all animal areas, including the petting zoo.

“Our sympathies go out to the family of the child that died from this illness,” states Wilma J. Wooten, M.D., M.P.H., County public health officer.  “While most people recover from this illness without complications, 5 to 10 percent of people diagnosed with STEC develop the life-threatening kidney infection.”

County Environmental Health also re-inspected food facilities that were visited by the children and found no link to the cases.

Most people with a STEC infection start feeling sick 3 to 4 days after eating or drinking something that contains the bacteria. However, illnesses can start anywhere from 1 to 10 days after exposure. Symptoms vary from person to person and often include:

  • Severe abdominal cramps
  • Watery or bloody diarrhea (3 or more loose stools in a 24 hour period)
  • Vomiting

Symptoms may occur with or without a fever. When present, the fever usually is not very high (less than 101˚F/38.5˚C). Most people get better within 5 to 7 days. Some infections are very mild, but others are severe or even life-threatening. The public is asked to contact your health care provider if you have experienced these symptoms on or after June 8, and especially if you have diarrhea that lasts for more than 3 days or diarrhea that is accompanied by a fever higher than 102˚F, or blood in the stool, or so much vomiting that you cannot keep liquids down and you pass very little urine.

The most important step people should take to help prevent an STEC infection is to practice good handwashing hygiene.  Always wash your hands thoroughly after contact with animals or their environments (at farms, petting zoos, fairs, even your own backyard). Everyone, especially young children, older individuals, and people with weakened immune systems, should wash their hands before eating or drinking.