The June outbreak that took the life of a 2-year old boy and infected nearly a dozen other children with E. coli O157: H7 likely occurred from exposure to the bacteria at the San Diego County Fair.

But county health officials say none of their 32 environmental samples turned up an exact source at the fairgrounds. Petting zoo, pony rides, and cattle areas were all suspected, but no positive results came back.

“Even though we have not found a specific animal that we can say the outbreak came from,” said Dr. Eric McDonald, “we have known that the cases all were people who went to the fair and had animal exposure in the livestock barn area.”

McDonald is the medical director for the county’s Epidemiology and immunization services.

Many animals were removed from the livestock barn before the environmental samples were collected. Competition at the fair requires weekly rotating of the animals kept in the livestock barn.

The environmental sampling that did occur included soils and the walls and pens of all livestock enclosures, including the fair’s “California Grown” exhibit, which included animal displays.

Three families filed claims against the 22nd District Agricultural Association, which runs the San Diego County Fair at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. Claims precede filing a lawsuit against a governmental unit in California.

Two-year Jedidiah King Cabezuela died on June 24 after attending the fair on June 15 and becoming infected with E. coli O157: H7. His family and the families of 6-year old Ryan Sadrabadi and 2-year old Christiano Lopez filed claims for injuries exceeding $10,000 each. The other two boys, who survived their bouts with the Shiga toxin-producing infections.

In their claims, the families charge the fair board could have done more to prevent the outbreak. They say more aggressive warnings were required. They say the condition of the fairgrounds was “dangerous.”
And the board’s hand-washing stands and stations were inadequate.

The families claim children were at a “substantial risk” of contracting E. coli by merely walking near or through any of the animal exhibits. Shoes and clothes worn in the area were then at risk of contamination with “dangerous pathogens.”

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)