At least 29 children and 17 adults are now known to have been infected with the dangerous O157:H7 strain of E. coli while attending the Cleveland County Fair in North Carolina. The death of one of these victims, two-year-old Gage Lefever, has sent the community into mourning. On its website, the Cleveland County Fair says it is “deeply grieved over the passing” of the boy. “Our sincerest condolences, thoughts, and prayers are with his family and with all of the families at this heartbreaking time,” it says. Local new stations are also reporting that the 13-year-old son of county Sheriff Alan Norman also contracted an infection while working with animals at the fair. Sheriff Norman’s son is recovering and expects to return to school. With a near record attendance of 175,797 people, this year’s 87th annual Cleveland County Fair ran Sept. 27 through Oct. 7. The E. coli outbreak so far spans a six-county area of North Carolina along with two counties in South Carolina. Cleveland County Health Director Dorothea Wyant does not think food is responsible for the outbreak, but has not yet connected it to a specific source on the county-owned fair grounds. Only one of the 46 sickened people did not attend the fair, and she is the mother of a 20-month-old baby who did attend the fair and was infected with E. coli. The Cleveland County Fair Association leases the fairgrounds from the county. This year the event included five animal petting areas, an activity often associated with bacterial outbreaks like the one experienced after this year’s fair. Calvin Hastings, fair manager, says there was a hand washing station in each petting area with signage warning parents and children to wash their hands. Volunteers manned the stations and kept them replenished with soap. Still, the mother of a child who visited the fair and ended up on a ventilator and 24-hour dialysis as a result of his E. coli infection claims that at least one station was out of soap. Health officials say people visiting petting zoos or petting areas at county fairs and other animal exhibits should wash their hands immediately after contact with animals. Human food and drinks should not be taken into petting areas. “In the wake of this situation and as more cases are confirmed, the Cleveland County Fair is working diligently with all of our local and state health partners to investigate, locate and identify the source of this outbreak,” continues the fair’s statement. “It is possible we could see more cases in the next several days. “ The fair says any of its patrons who experience E. coli symptoms should see a doctor right away. These include: stomach cramps, fever, diarrhea longer than three days and bloody diarrhea that began on or after October 1.