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By Jeff Pack
Writer 

Five E. Coli cases linked to San Diego County Fair, one child dies from complications

 

Last updated 7/8/2019 at 4:05pm



The County of San Diego Health and Human Services reported late Friday, June 28, that a 2-year-old has died from complications related to the Escherichia coli bacteria, or E. Coli, that they have linked to the San Diego County Fair.

On Tuesday, July 2, the county announced a new, confirmed case of Shiga-toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) that may be related to animals at the San Diego County Fair has been reported.

The new case is a 6-year-old boy who attended animal displays at the fair on June 22 and started exhibiting symptoms June 26. He was not hospitalized and is now recovering, the agency reported.

The agency said, “To date, there have been a total of five cases linked to contact with animals at the fair: four confirmed cases and one probable case.”

The initial four cases were confirmed in children ranging from 2 to 13 years old, according to the County Health and Human Services Agency. Fair officials have closed public access to all animal areas, including the petting zoo, at the livestock barn on the eastern side of the Del Mar Fairgrounds as a precautionary measure while the source of the E. Coli is investigated.

In the first case, a 13-year-old girl visited the fair on June 8 and became ill on June 10. The girl is recovering and was not hospitalized.

In the second, an 11-year-old girl visited the fair on June 8 and 12, when she fell ill. The girl is recovering and was not hospitalized.

The third case involved a 9-year-old boy who visited the fair on June 13. He became ill June 16. The boy is recovering and was not hospitalized.

In the fourth case, a 2-year-old boy visited the fair on June 15. He became ill June 19. The boy suffered from hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) and was hospitalized. He died on June 24.

The toddler was identified by family members as Jedediah Cabezuela. He died from Shiga-toxin-producing E. Coli. Health officials said Saturday, June 29, there were no other clusters of Shiga-toxin in the county.

"Our sympathies go out to the family of the child that died from this illness," said Wilma J. Wooten, M.D., M.P.H. County public health officer. "While most people recover from this illness without complications, 5 to 10 percent of people diagnosed with STEC develop the life-threatening kidney infection."

The San Diego County Fair released a post, with a link to the press release from the county.

"We are heartbroken and are working directly with County officials to ensure public safety," the post read.

E. Coli can cause HUS, a condition that destroys red blood cells and causes kidney failure, which can lead to death. The illnesses are being investigated by the County Department of Environmental Health and the Health and Human Services Epidemiology Program.

County inspectors said the illnesses had no link to the food facilities the children accessed at the fair. All four children visited the animal areas or had contact with animals at the fair, county health officials said, which led fair officials to close access to animal areas. Fair and health officials have not, however, definitely linked the cause of the E. Coli bacteria to animals at the fair.

The Junior Livestock Auction on Saturday continued as planned, officials said.

Fair officials said Saturday at a news conference that the fair is ''safe and secure.'' The last day of the fair is Thursday, July 4.

San Diego County Fair CEO Tim Fennell said he was heartbroken over the boy's death. "We are devastated by this news,'' he said. "But we are moving forward and taking any precaution, the fair will continue until the Fourth of July.''

Fennell said that with animals at an event like a county fair, there is always "potential inherent risk.''

"Animals do relieve themselves; E. coli is in the feces,'' Fennell said. "Small children, unfortunately, can step in it, walk in it, and unfortunately, they don't always wash their hands. I'm not suggesting that is the case here, but it is a possibility.''

Fair organizers said they expect the animal exhibit to return with more safeguards and policies next season, 10News reported.

Hand-washing stations are located throughout the fair, particularly in the livestock areas. Fennell said it was the first such occurrence he knew of at the fair.

Most people with an E. coli infection start feeling sick three to four days after eating or drinking something containing the bacteria. But illnesses can start between one to 10 days after exposure. Symptoms can include severe stomach cramps, watery or bloody diarrhea and vomiting.

Symptoms can occur with or without a fever.

People are encouraged to contact their doctor if they have experienced these symptoms on or after June 8, especially if they have had diarrhea for more than three days or diarrhea accompanied with a fever higher than 102 degrees or blood in the stool or so much vomiting that they cannot keep liquids down.

Health officials advise that you always wash your hands after contact with animals, especially before eating.

The family of Cabezuela gathered Saturday for a fundraiser at Rosie O'Grady's restaurant in Normal Heights. By Saturday night, a GoFundMe account for funeral expenses reached more than $16,000.

City News Service contributed to this report.

Jeff Pack can be reached by email at jpack@reedermedia.com.

 

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