A young women feeds goats at the San Diego County Fair with a sign behind her instructing: "Please wash hands when exiting animal area."
A young women feeds goats at the San Diego County Fair with a sign behind her instructing: “Please wash hands when exiting animal area.” Photo by Ken Stone

County health officials reported two new probable cases of E.coli Friday in two children, ages 2 and 4, who recently visited the San Diego County Fair and whose contraction of the bacteria is likely related to visiting the fair’s animal exhibits and not washing their hands afterward.

The 4-year-old reportedly visited the fair June 21 and remains hospitalized after showing symptoms of an E. coli infection June 29. The 2-year-old visited the fair June 22, according to the county’s Health and Human Services Agency, and began showing symptoms of the bacteria June 26.

The 2-year-old did not require hospitalization, however.

The two new cases bring the county’s total to four confirmed cases and three probable. County officials received reports of the first four cases June 28 and confirmed a fifth case on Tuesday.

Among the four confirmed cases last week was 2-year-old Jedidiah Cabezuela, who died after visiting the fair and contracting E. coli. After Cabezuela’s death, the fair closed its animal exhibits for the remainder of its run through July 4.

In addition to Cabezuela, health officials have confirmed E.coli in a 6-year-old boy, a 9-year-old boy and a 13-year-old girl and received reports of a probable case in an 11-year-old girl. All seven confirmed and probable cases are believed to be linked to the fair’s animal exhibits.

People can avoid contracting the bacteria by thoroughly washing their hands after making contact with animals at places like farms, petting zoos and fair exhibits. Young children, older adults and people with weak immune systems are at particular risk, according to health officials.

The HHSA and the California Department of Food and Agriculture have collected environmental samples at the fair over the last week to confirm the bacteria’s origin. However, results of the collected samples were not available prior to the fair’s closure.

“The investigation is ongoing, and even though the fair is over, there are likely more cases that will be reported,” said Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the county’s interim deputy public health officer. “This isn’t unusual for a public health investigation. We have asked local doctors to be on the lookout for symptoms of (E.coli).”

While most people who contract E. coli do not develop severe complications, roughly 5 to 10% of those who contract the bacteria can develop a potentially life-threatening kidney infection. Symptoms do not appear for three to four days after contraction and can include severe abdominal cramps, watery or bloody diarrhea and vomiting.

Residents should promptly contact their doctor if they believe they have contracted E. coli, according to the county.

— City News Service