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North Carolina Mom Sues County Fair After Son Part of E. coli O157:H7 Outbreak

Amie Westfall is suing the Cleveland County Fair in Shelby, North Carolina after her 18-month-old son Dominic suffered from a severe E. coli infection as part of last month’s outbreak tied to the fair’s petting zoo, Circle G Ranch.

According to the North Carolina Department of Health, there were 106 reported illnesses and 1 death connected to the petting zoo and investigators believe animal exposure was the likely source of the bacteria, according to the complaint filed this week by food safety law firm Marler Clark (underwriter of Food Safety News).

The suit also points to rain runoff that could have helped spread the bacteria to other areas of the fair grounds, exacerbating the outbreak.

Dominic’s infection developed into Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS), which causes severe injury to the kidney. He was hospitalized for several days and the suit says he is still “suffering from the aftereffects of his illness.”

The complaint says the plaintiffs are seeking at least $10,000 in damages. In a blog post last week, food safety lawyer Bill Marler (publisher of Food Safety News) noted that the firm is doing the case pro bono and is asking the local attorneys on the case to do the same.

In the wake of dozens of serious outbreaks linked to petting zoos, Marler believes fairs and petting zoos need to step up their health precautions, or even consider banning petting zoos. “How many of these outbreaks have to happen until WE rethink what WE are exposing our kids to?” he asked on Marler Blog last week.

© Food Safety News
  • mjv64

    Why don’t we just ban everything and live in a giant bubble? Parents need to step up and supervise their kids and wash their hands for them if we are talking about a 18 month old. Is it parents responsibility to teach our kids good hygenic habits? Then she should sue herself for failing the task. It’s a county fair, people, use your common sense.

  • Susan Rudnicki

    This is really a sad development in the “modern” world.   Most kids are lucky if they get to have time cuddling a cat or dog, but who knows—maybe that is soon to be “banned” too.   Unfortunately, the more we shield kids from encounters that challenge the immune system, the weaker that system is becoming.   At the same time, the proliferation of background exposure to chemicals like fire retardants (carpet, upholstry, drapery, clothing, furniture) glues, plastics, coatings of all sorts, cleaners, pesticides, etc. leads to  bioaccumlation and synergenicity  reactions.    Still, our chemical industry is allowed all kind of leniency in bringing more of the stuff to market, and only when a huge number of lives are flagrantly harmed and a class action lawsuit filed is the industry held accountable.    The Precautionary Principle is greatly needed here, as is used in Europe 
        The “purpose” of a petting zoo is to allow children to interact with farm animals they may never encounter in any other way.   The animals I grew up with—horses, chickens, goats, pigs, reptiles, dogs, cats and rabbits—were not walking E. coli factories.   Life is full of risk.     I suggest we focus on the big stuff

  • Kids don’t live on farms?  Seriously? Every “farm” isn’t a factory farm. Kids do indeed live on family farms and play with farm animals. I’m 48 and I pick up and pet my chickens all of the time. I played with and petted the goats and cows we had when I was a child. Even had a pony that I cared for and rode. And guess what? I handled feces ALL THE TIME and never contracted E.coli.

    Apparently, before we educate the kids, we need to start with adults.

  • Have you ever been to a farm? It certainly doesn’t sound like it.

    You DO realize that you come into contact with fecal matter on door handles, subway straps, staircase rails and every other publicly located object that humans touch, right? People have dogs and cats in their homes. Dogs lick their behinds and then lick their humans, children included, in the face. Banning petting zoos, county fairs, circuses or other places there are animals is not the answer. The answer is the parents taking personal responsibility for their kids and carrying hand sanitizer or making sure they wash their hands.



    • No, it just sounds like I’m not into parroting what you believe. What can I say? Life is full of little disappointments. 

      People have to live in the everyday world and we hope parents and other authority figures teach their children good hygienic habits. But petting zoos have many things wrong with them, including the fact that many of them are as unhealthy for the young animals, as they are for the children. If we want children to understand what farm life is like, then they need to go to the farm. And if we want them to understand the food chain, we better ensure they have time to visit a CAFO and a meat processing plant, too. And where did you get banning circuses from this discussion? Restricting exotic animal acts in circuses isn’t ‘banning’ circuses. Again, it’s an effort to eliminate barbaric inhumane practices created specifically for human entertainment. Well, torturing an animal isn’t my idea of fun. 

      If we want to teach our kids anything, how about starting with compassion, empathy, and responsibility to critters and the planet? Wow, what a novel thing to do. 

  • Why don’t you scale back your attitude just a tad. 

    If your interest is in helping animals, then you may want to reserve your umbrage for people who abuse animals, not people who fight for animal welfare. 

    This will be the last time I respond to anything you say, because I don’t think one can have a good discussion with someone whose knees never stop jerking. 

    • Susan Rudnicki

       Please, let me be the first to spare you from the need to diagnose my attitudinal problems.   Whenever someone disagrees with your personal characterizations, you resort to sanctimonious name calling and defining what constitutes “good discussion”  

  • Susan Rudnicki

     It is interesting that you avoid commenting on Judy’s observations of dogs and cats and other pets in homes—

    You DO realize that you come into contact with fecal matter on door
    handles, subway straps, staircase rails and every other publicly located
    object that humans touch, right? People have dogs and cats in their
    homes. Dogs lick their behinds and then lick their humans, children
    included, in the face.

    Everyone in real life encounters these immune system stressors, but it seems you fail to acknowledge these remarks as the evidence is inconvenient for your arguement.   Kids eat dirt on the playground, at the beach, and crawl around on floors and walkway surfaces everywhere.   Maybe you have never had any….   But the idea that you must keep a child from contact with the microbes of everyday life is absurd, and not even in their best interests.