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NC State Fair Takes Measures to Prevent Another E. coli Outbreak

Last year’s E. coli O157:H7 outbreak attributed to the Kelley Livestock Building at the North Carolina State Fair has brought changes in pedestrian and animal traffic patterns, now designed to minimize health risks at the fair.

The big Raleigh event, next scheduled for Oct.11 to 21, 2012, was responsible for its third E. coli O157:H7 outbreak last year.

In 2004, the NC fair’s petting zoo left 108 fairgoers infected with E. coli O157:H7. In 2006, the NC fair’s pita stand was found responsible for infecting three people with the bacteria. And last year, the livestock building was blamed for infecting at least 27 fairgoers with O157.

For 2012, the NC State Fair has spent $206,000 on improvements designed to reduce the likelihood that a fairgoer will come into contact with disease-causing pathogens.

More than one million visitors attend the annual NC State Fair.

After last year’s outbreak, a newly appointed State Fair Study Commission took up the issue with the goal of keeping people and competition livestock separated as much as practical without keeping people totally away from the animals.

An NC public health investigation last year found that fairgoer illnesses stemmed from exposure to sheep, goats and pigs competing in the fair’s livestock shows and being kept in the Kelley building.

NC State Agricultural Commissioner Steve Troxler set up the study to review the repeated problem of fairgoers being infected with E. coli.

The solutions the study group came up with involve changing the traffic patterns in buildings where livestock are housed or shown, the Kelley Building, Jim Graham Building, and the Expo Center.

The recommendations included changing the location of animals within buildings and how animals and people enter and exit buildings.

In addition, food vendors are being relocated from the area between the Graham Building and Expo Center. Instructional signs at animal exhibits will be larger, and hand-washing stations will have nighttime lighting and more signs to increase visibility.

“The changes put forth by the Study Commission are a practical and effective way to further reduce the potential for disease transmission – both animal-to-human and human-to-animal,” Troxler said. “They build upon protective measures already in place, and they reduce risks while maintaining the fair’s agricultural heritage.”

Lindsay Tallent, mother of then 2-year old Hunter Tallent who spent 16 days in the hospital with kidney failure after being infected with E. coli at last year’s NC State Fair, said its sad that families must be kept further away from the animals, but in the long run it is better to “keep away any spread of diseases and keep families away from what we’ve had to deal with.”

State Fair revenues are being used to pay for the chang

“While there is no way to completely eliminate the potential for exposure, the measures being implemented will minimize the risk,” said Dr. Megan Davies, state epidemiologist with the N.C. Division of Public Health. “We also want to encourage the public to do their part as well by following traffic patterns at the fair and using common sense measures to keep themselves and their families healthy.”

Wake County Community Health Director Sue Lynn Ledford, a member of the study commission, said State Fair visitors can help themselves stay healthy by:

– Leaving strollers outside buildings containing animals.

– Following instructions on signs indicating animals that should not be touched.

– Using the hand-washing stations located throughout the fairgrounds.

– Helping children wash their hands well at the appropriate times.

“While hand sanitizers and hand wipes are easy to use, washing hands for 20 seconds with soap and water and drying them with clean paper towels is the best way to prevent the spread of germs that cause illness,” Ledford said. “Washing hands before you eat, every time you eat, greatly reduces the spread of disease. This is particularly important after visiting animal exhibits or being in direct contact with animals.”

The 15-member State Fair Study Commission consisted of public health professionals, veterinarians, livestock exhibitors, State Fair staff and representatives of N.C. Cooperative Extension and the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

David Smith, chief deputy commissioner of the department, chaired the group.

© Food Safety News
  • Ned Hamson

    Curious – if families raising the animals are not all falling ill, what’s the reason for problem at fairs? People not having any immunity, sense to wash hands? Or too many animals crowded together? Keeping visitors away from animals defeats one of the reasons to have fair and why so many go – no?

  • Katy

    Ned raises an interesting point. When outbreaks result from fairs and exhibitions are samples pulled from the livestock raisers remaining animals and is there contamination on the individual farms? If not, where is the contamination point?

  • Nathan

    Whenever, or wherever you come in contact with human or animal feces you are being contaminated with E-coli. Some of that E-coli is of the pathogenic strain. No one is ‘immune’ to E-coli, however people with healthier immune systems are more likely to thwarts its attack. Of course most likely contact point is with your hands, so wash your hands before you eat if you come into contact with feces. And in a farm or fair setting it is likely that people are coming into contact with feces everywhere and unkowingly transferring it to many other ‘touch’ points that you might not expect.

  • PLK

    FYI, for several years the CDC and NASPHV have provided and updated a “Compendium of Measures to Prevent Disease Associated with Animals in Public Settings.” It also explains the risks and what increases the risks. The latest Compendium is found at http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr6004a1.htm