Oct. 9 update: A state epidemiologist with the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention announced Friday that the two boys who became ill after visiting a petting zoo last month were both infected by E. coli O111.
“The strain and molecular typing from each patient was identical, making it highly likely that the cases acquired the illness from same source,” said Dr. Siiri Bennett, adding, “We cannot say with certainty what that common exposure might have been.”
She said that state health officials have collected and are testing environmental samples from the main barn, outside animal pens and the livestock area for the petting zoo at the Oxford County fairgrounds in Oxford, ME.
Previous coverage of this story follows:
Two Maine boys, 20-month-old Colton Guay and 17-month-old Myles Herschaft, visited the petting farm at the Oxford County Fair in September. Now Colton is dead, and Myles is battling a life-threatening kidney complication of E. coli infection, which is the same infection Colton had before he died.
Victor Herschaft wrote in a Facebook post Tuesday, Oct. 6, that his son “is keeping up the battle” against hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) and took comfort in the fact that Myles had smiled for the first time since the nightmare began.
Both the Maine Center for Disease Control and the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry are investigating to determine where the two boys were exposed to the dangerous pathogen. State officials are also testing to determine the type of E. coli bacteria involved.
However, the parents of the boy who died are not waiting. Jon and Beth Guay are warning other Maine parents of the risks to children who come into contact with farm animals at petting zoos found at county fairs.
The two families met at the Maine Medical Center in Portland. Jon Guay, a deputy sheriff for Androscoggin County, and he found that both boys had visited the same petting farm exhibit at about the same time. Maine CDC conducted laboratory tests at the fair exhibit area and found the presence of Shiga toxins associated with E. coli.
The two Maine boys are only the latest to become infected with E. coli then develop HUS. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, it is the most common way for children to come down with HUS.
The digestive system is made up of the gastrointestinal, or GI, tract — a series of hollow organs joined in a long, twisting tube from the mouth to the anus — and other organs that help the body break down and absorb food.
Normally, harmless strains, or types, of E. coli are found in the intestines and are an important part of digestion. However, if a child becomes infected with the O157:H7 strain of E. coli, the bacteria will lodge in the digestive tract and produce toxins that can enter the bloodstream. The toxins travel through the bloodstream and can destroy red blood cells.
Petting zoos and farms have been a common source of E. coli transmission.
Maine has 26 privately operated agricultural fairs that fall under some supervision by the state agriculture department. The department reportedly inspects all animals participating in the fairs.
The Oxford County Fair told local media outlets that it has signs to encourage visitors to wash their hands after visiting the exhibit and stations for hand-washing and/or sanitizing.
Guay said that if he’d known that his son could pick up the bacteria just by touching the animals, he would not have taken his family to the fair.
(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)© Food Safety News