Traveling Zoo Spreads E. Coli To Three At Olmsted County Fair

Updated: 08/12/2014 11:26 PM
Created: 08/12/2014 11:14 PM
By: John Doetkott

(ABC 6 News) -- Health officials in Minnesota say 13 people contracted E. coli infections after coming in contact with animals at a travelling petting zoo.

Three of those people fell ill after visiting the Olmsted County Fair.

Officials say they were infected at four different public fairs and festivals at which the same petting zoo was present.

The age of those infected ranges from 2 to 68, and of the three adults who were infected in Rochester, two were hospitalized.

Officials were able to track the infections back to the petting zoo using the bacteria's unique DNA signature.

Fair organizers said they have hand washing and sanitizing stations near all the animal pens, and even structured the fair to try to decrease the potential spread of disease.

"We have it way down at this end of the fairgrounds,” said Terry Leary, president of the Olmsted County Fair Board. “[It’s] way away from all the other animals, just like we try to keep the Miracle of Birth area separate from all of the other animals.”

Health officials said they actually see E. coli infections virtually every year in Minnesota because of how easily the bacteria can spread.

"In the case of a petting zoo type situation, petting the animals, coming in contact with manure, even only slight amounts can be enough to transmit the bacteria,” said Mike Melius, an environmental health manager with the Olmsted County Department of Public Health.

Fair officials said the U.S.D.A. and others keep close tabs on any animals at the fair, but because the bacteria can incubate for days before symptoms start, sometimes situations like these are unavoidable.

"It's not real feasible to do testing,” Leary said. “The Olmsted County Department of Public Health was here, as well as our own veterinarian. None of the animals appeared sick at all, that's something we watch for very closely."

Officials said the petting zoo in question is cooperating with their investigation and has canceled or changed their approach to subsequent events.

Fair organizers in Olmsted County said this is the first time they can remember something like this happening.