A young woman greets hungry goats Thursday at the fair's petting zoo a day before such areas were closed to public access.
A young woman greets hungry goats Thursday at the fair’s petting zoo a day before such areas were closed to public access.

A 2-year-old boy died and three other children were sickened but not hospitalized after contracting E. coli linked to the San Diego County Fair, health officials said.

The children, whose ages range from 2 to 13, reportedly visited the petting zoo or touched animals in other areas of the fair. According to the County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency:

  • A 13-year-old girl who visited the fair on June 8 became sick on June 10
  • An 11-year-old girl visited on June 8 and 12 and became sick on June 12
  • A 9-year-old boy visited on June 13 and was sickened on June 18
  • A 2-year-old boy visited on June 15 and became sick on June 19. He died on June 24

“Our sympathies go out to the family of the child that died from this illness,” said Dr. Wilma J. Wooten, county public health officer. She said that while most people recover from the illness, between 5 to 10 percent of people diagnosed with E. coli develop a life-threatening kidney infection.

Health officials inspected food facilities the children visited and found no link to the cases.

San Diego County Fair CEO Tim Fennell said he was heartbroken over the boy’s death.

“We are devastated by this news,” he said. “But we are moving forward and taking any precaution, the fair will continue until the Fourth of July.”

Fennell said that with animals at an event like a county fair, there is always “potential inherent risk.”

“Animals do relieve themselves; E. coli is in the feces,” Fennell said. “Small children unfortunately can step in it, walk in it, and unfortunately, they don’t always wash their hands. I’m not suggesting that is the case here, but it is a possibility.”

Hand-washing stations are located throughout the fair, particularly in the livestock areas. Fennell said it was the first such occurrence he knew of at the fair.

“The fair is open, it’s safe and secure, and we would like people to come out,” he added.

Most people with an E. coli infection start feeling sick three to four days after eating or drinking something containing the bacteria. But illnesses can start between one to 10 days after exposure. Symptoms can include severe stomach cramps, watery or bloody diarrhea and vomiting.

Symptoms can occur with or without a fever.

People are encouraged to contact their doctor if they have experienced these symptoms on or after June 8, especially if they have had diarrhea for more than three days or diarrhea accompanied with a fever higher than 102 degrees or blood in the stool or so much vomiting that they cannot keep liquids down.

Though the source of the bacteria has not been officially determined, fair officials have closed public access to all animal areas, including the petting zoo.

Updated at 1:05 p.m. June 29, 2019

–City News Service