State health officials have determined an outbreak of E. coli that sickened at least 27 and caused several hospitalizations did in fact start at the North Carolina State Fair. It wasn’t a food vendor, but rather a livestock exhibit that led to the outbreak.
State Epidemiologist Megan Davis says animals shed the E. coli bacteria in their feces, which apparently ended up on the floors or railings of the exhibit.
“Then your hands become contaminated and it really only takes a very small dose of E. coli to cause an infection,” explains Davis. “So if your hands make contact with your mouth before you’re able to wash them very thoroughly then it’s not unexpected that you would become infected.”
Davies says public health investigators began to suspect early on that the E. coli was not from a food vendor at the State Fair because that would have resulted in far more cases of the disease.
Davis says the state has strict safety laws surrounding contact with animals at petting zoos, but the exhibits at the state fair technically don’t allow people to touch the animals. She says state health and agriculture officials will look at additional ways to prevent disease exposure at the fair.