The Minnesota Department of Health reports that health officials have identified at least 13 people with E. coli O157:H7 infections linked to Zerebko Zoo Tran, a traveling petting zoo that recently visited county fairs there. Seven people have been hospitalized, including three children. Two of the cases developed a serious complication known as hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a kidney disease associated with the most severe E. coli infections. One of those HUS cases is still in the hospital. The petting zoo was at the following events in the month of July:
- Nashwauk Fourth of July Festival (7/3-7/5): 1 case
- Polk County Fair (7/9-7/13): 1 case
- Rice County Fair (7/15-7/20): 7 cases (including the 2 secondary cases)
- Olmsted County Fair (7/21-7/27): 3 cases
The health department said it may report additional cases associated with attendance at the recent Olmsted County Fair. Officials found the outbreak strain of E. coli O157:H7 on fecal and environmental samples collected from the petting zoo. “The owner has been cooperating in the investigation and voluntarily withheld his animals from the last two county fairs at which he was scheduled to exhibit in August,” a health department news release stated. “These illnesses are a stark reminder that E. coli O157:H7 can be present in even the cleanest of animal operations,” said State Public Health Veterinarian Dr. Joni Scheftel in a news release. A number of disease outbreaks have been linked to petting zoos in recent years. In 2012, the petting zoo at a county fair in North Carolina was linked to an E. coli outbreak that sickened 106 people and ended in the death of a 2-year-old boy. Parents are advised to carefully monitor their children when petting farm animals. Children should immediately wash their hands after visiting a petting zoo and should not be given the opportunity to put their hands or fingers in their mouths after touching animals.