State health officials have traced an E. coli outbreak to a traveling petting zoo that last stopped at the Olmsted County Fair.
Thirteen cases of E. coli O157:H7 infections tied to the Zerebko Zoo Tran traveling petting zoo have been confirmed so far, sickening people ranging in age from 2 to 68, the Minnesota Department of Health said Tuesday.
Seven people have been hospitalized, including three children. Two people ended up with hemolytic uremic syndrome, a serious complication that can damage the kidneys, the department said.
The illnesses were traced to contact with the petting zoo animals between July 4 and July 27 at the Nashwauk 4th of July Festival, and at the Polk, Rice and Olmsted County fairs.
The Health Department has worked out an agreement with petting zoo owner Wally Zerebko that allows him to show animals this week at the Carlton County Fair in Barnum, as long as he uses a different goat herd or animals that don't carry E coli.
Officials say the E. coli symptoms often include severe stomach cramps and diarrhea, often with bloody stools. People typically become ill up to eight days after exposure.
Most recover within 10 days but children under 5, seniors, pregnant women and people with chronic health conditions are prone to "serious complications," health officials said, adding that infection should not be treated with antibiotics.
Visitors to animal exhibits can minimize their risk of contracting E. coli by following a few precautions, said epidemiologist Carrie Klumb.
"We want to make sure that they leave their food and drinks and any items that would promote hand-to-mouth contact like pacifiers or bottles outside of the animal areas," Klumb said. "And once they're done visiting the animals they should wash their hands with soap and water right away."