Health officials investigating E. coli cases linked to State Fair

Petting goats at Urban Ag Day.
Children surround the goat pen in the CHS Miracle of Birth building at the fairgrounds in May 2018. These students had no issues with their visit, but state health officials announced Tuesday that 11 people became ill with E. coli after attending the 2019 State Fair, and that contact with livestock is suspected.
Tom Baker for MPR News 2018

At least 11 cases of E. coli being investigated by the state Health Department have been tied to the Minnesota State Fair, according to department officials.

The Minnesota Department of Health announced Tuesday that all of those who became ill attended the fair during its run from late-August through Labor Day. Six were hospitalized, and one developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a potentially fatal complication. One person remains hospitalized.

While the department works with fair officials to determine a source behind the outbreak, officials say early evidence suggests that contact with livestock is a likely factor. A news release says most of the 11 cases visited the Miracle of Birth exhibit and had contact with calves, goats, sheep or piglets.

However, some cases did not have direct contact with animals and may have been exposed through contact with contaminated surfaces.

State public health veterinarian Joni Scheftel says because the fair has ended, there’s little chance of ongoing exposure. But she adds the potential health issues associated with this strain are serious enough to warrant public awareness.

“These infections can have serious health impacts and there is always a chance that an ill person can pass along the infection to others through close contact,” Scheftel said. “Anyone who believes they may have developed an E. coli O157 infection should contact their health care provider. E. coli O157 infections should not be treated with antibiotics, as this might lead to serious complications.”

Symptoms of this strain typically include stomach cramps and diarrhea, often with bloody stools, but only a low-grade or no fever.

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