North Carolina Division of Public Health authorities investigating an outbreak of E. coli say 23 of the 26 people sickened attended the state fair earlier this month, pointing to the fair as the probable source of exposure.

In a news release, the health department said of the 26 cases reported so far, 13 are adults over 18 and 13 are children. Five people — four children and one adult — are hospitalized.

Fourteen of the ill people are from Wake County and six are from Sampson County. Single cases of infection have been reported from Cleveland, Durham, Franklin, Johnston, Orange and Wilson counties.

Public health officials, who are working with the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services on the investigation, said they will be contacting some fairgoers in the next phase of their investigation as they try to pinpoint the specific source.

In 2004, more than 100 attendees of the North Carolina State Fair were sickened with E. coli O157:H7 in an outbreak linked to a petting zoo. Most of those sickened in 2004 were children.