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Unwashed hands get blame for fair E. coli

UPPER SANDUSKY - Health officials have attributed the recent outbreak of E. coli bacteria at the Wyandot County Fair to people who failed to wash their hands after touching cows and calves on display there.

A preliminary report by the Centers for Disease Control and Pre- vention in Atlanta showed that people who became ill after attending the fair in mid-September likely had direct contact with those animals - and later consumed food without washing up.

“Individuals need to be aware that when they do touch animals, before we eat we should always wash our hands,” said Dr. Mary DiOrio, an epidemiologist with the Ohio Department of Health in Columbus.

Of the 41 confirmed E. coli cases in Wyandot County, three were children who later developed the rare but sometimes fatal kidney disease Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome.

All three were hospitalized for the illness, and one child still remains in an undisclosed hospital. The children are expected to survive, said Jeff Ritchey, director of environmental health at the Wyandot County health department. HUS can cause permanent kidney damage in certain cases.

Results from the E. coli outbreak in Wyandot County mirror those released just last week in Elyria, Ohio.

A cattle show barn at the Lorain County Fair was the likely source of an E. coli outbreak that sickened 23 people there. That fair was held Aug. 20-26.

People who tested positive all had been in the barn, either by walking through, watching an animal show, or attending a dance there, according to the Lorain County health department. The CDC issued the findings for both Lorain and Wyandot counties.

Mr. Ritchey said yesterday he is awaiting a final report from the CDC before he meets with the local fair board to discuss how they will handle the event next year.

“We're going to work with our fair board to address different issues to prevent future cases,” he said. “We will provide them with recommendations based on the report.”

Earlier this month the outbreak of E. coli bacteria was blamed for the cancellation of the 26th annual Ohio Corn Huskers Contest that was planned for Oct. 13 and 14 at the Wyandot County fairgrounds.

The local Corn Huskers Association and the fair board met with the health department before deciding to cancel the event. The group said the decision was made because the source of the outbreak was then unknown.

The problem of people contracting E. coli after visiting county fairs is nothing new in Ohio.

Last year outbreaks of E. coil prompted local fair officials to set up special kiosks that dispensed a sanitizing lotion outside barns for children to use on their hands after petting the animals.

Through Oct. 6 this year, 140 people have tested positive in Ohio for E. coli contamination. Eight children tested positive for HUS, although not all of those cases were contracted through E. coli bacteria. Last year state officials said there were 275 confirmed E coli cases. There were 14 instances of HUS.

E. coli bacteria, which is found in the bowels of healthy cows, pigs, and sheep, can cause sickness in humans. The bacteria can be transmitted through food - such as ground beef - or water or by touching an animal that has traces of feces on its fur or even touching a fence railing that has animal feces on it.

Common symptoms of E. coli contamination include diarrhea, severe abdominal cramps, or bloody stools. Victims may have little or no fever. The bacteria can be spread in stools of infected people for up to two weeks after symptoms disappear.

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