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.

The E. coli outbreak among children who visited the San Diego County Fair and did not wash their hands after visiting animal exhibits stands at 11 cases as of Friday—one of which was fatal.

County health officials have tracked E. coli cases related to the fair since June 28, when the Health and Human Service Agency announced that it had received reports of four confirmed or probable cases of the bacteria.

The fair shuttered its animal exhibits the same day, after 2-year-old Jedidiah Cabezuela’s death was reported, and the fair closed for the year on July 4.

As of Wednesday, the number had increased to 10 confirmed cases and one probable case, all of which involve children ranging in age from 2 to 13. The county did not disclose the age or gender of the four new cases confirmed this week, but said all of the patients visited the fair’s animal exhibits and petting zoos.

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 collected environmental samples at the fair after the first cases were reported to confirm the bacteria’s origin. However, results of the collected samples were not available prior to the fair’s closure and have yet to be disclosed.

County health officials repeatedly cautioned that more confirmed cases were likely despite the fair’s closing due to local doctors intentionally looking for symptoms of the bacteria and its multi-day incubation period. As such, the county has not indicated that the cases are part of a larger, countywide outbreak linked to common causes like contaminated produce.

While most people who contract the E. coli bacteria do not develop severe complications, roughly 5% to 10% of those who do 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

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.