The San Diego Country Fair, which ended its run with plenty of fireworks on July 4th, has turned out to be something of a warning shot to the many upcoming state and country fairs and rodeos about the danger of exposing farm animals to children.
The operators of the fair are “heartbroken” by the June 24 death of 2-year-old Jedidiah King Cabezuela and are continuing to count other E. coli victims. Two were added to the toll by county health officials after the San Diego County Fair closed out its season. Three additional illnesses are being investigated, which would mean an outbreak cluster of at least 10.
All visited the fair’s petting zoo or other animal contact areas where exposure to E. coli from animals feces was possible. A 4-year-old girl, who attended the show on June 21 and became ill on June 29, required hospitalization.
Investigators have not yet been able to determine whether the E. coli contamination originated at the petting zoo or in larger livestock areas. DNA-based testing is underway, but it will take weeks to get definitive answers.
The San Diego County Fair wrapped up its 27-day run on July 4. The event drew more than 1.5 million attendees. The San Diego Health and Human Services Agency confirmed the fair-related death along with three other cases on June 28.
“We are heartbroken and are working directing with county officials to ensure public safety,” fair management said in a media statement. They shut down the petting zoo and cut back access to other animal exhibits for the fair’s final week.
San Diego County’s environmental health inspectors have collected samples from individual animals who were at the fair along with swabs of the surrounding environment. The county sent the samples to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta for testing and analysis.
The CDC will be able to create and compare genetic fingerprints to STEC bacteria from ill children. The San Diego Fair plans on waiting for the CDC findings before making any permanent changes in its animal contact policies.
San Diego’s fatality and the cluster of E. coli cases are getting attention throughout the country. Most fairs and rodeos occur during the warm summer months that remain.
The National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians has recommendations for operators of those events on how to protect children who make contact with animals. Just as the veterinarians don’t call for eliminating all animal contact, it’s unlikely petting zoos and animal contact will be put off limits because of San Diego.
Even the next door Orange County Fair, which begins July 12, is not banning animal contact opportunities because of what happened in San Diego. It does plan more oversight and more hand-washing options. The Sacramento-based Western Fairs Association is calling the tragedy to its members attention.
In a note to its “Members and Friends,” the Western Fairs Association described a “communication piece” that is in the works:
“Western Fairs Association Members and Friends – in light of the situation that took place with the San Diego County Fair and their patrons, Western Fairs Association has spent several days gathering information to communicate to you, our members. Please know that WFA and CFSA have been working diligently and collaboratively to develop a communication piece that will be distributed to our membership shortly. Please utilize this communication piece and share with your teams – staff, board, vendors and partners- so together we can continue to provide safe, friendly, fun entertainment at all of our county and state fairs.”
Here’s the list of WFA events scheduled for the remainder of the year.