County fair E. coli outbreak grows; 16 people now sickened

Published: Oct. 11, 2012 at 4:38 PM EDT|Updated: Nov. 11, 2012 at 10:37 PM EST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

An E. coli outbreak related to the Cleveland County Fair is growing after public health officials announced that 16 people have now been sickened.  That number includes ten adults and eight children in four counties.

According to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, investigators are working with local health departments in Gaston, Cleveland and Lincoln counties to investigate the outbreak. There is also one reported case in York County, SC.

The people sickened have all attended the Cleveland County Fair between September 26 and October 7.

"[We will] investigate as quickly as possible to make sure that it's not spread," said Cleveland County Health Department Director Dorothea Wyant.

One of the Gaston County residents with E. Coli is a 12-year-old boy who has been hospitalized since Monday.

Friday night, Jordan McNair was still in the intensive care unit at Levine Children's Hospital in Charlotte.  Doctors began dialysis Wednesday.

"It was rough," said Jordan's older sister Hayley Totherow. "Just hoping every morning that I would hear good news. And when I didn't hear that, it just scared me."

Totherow told WBTV Jordan was doing much better Thursday but had a long road ahead. The family is asking for continued prayer.

According to Totherow, her brother visited the petting zoo and milked a cow at the fair on Sunday, Sept. 30. He also ate two corn dogs.

Jordan began feeling sick the following Monday. At first, he was thought to have appendicitis, but his symptoms turned out to be related to E. Coli and shigella bacteria.

According to State Health Director Laura Gerald, the State Laboratory for Public Health has confirmed two of the patients have E. coli O157:H7 infections.

Escherichia coli are bacteria found in the feces of animals such as cattle, sheep and goats.

If people touch contaminated material, food or animals, they can transfer the bacteria from their hands to their mouths, or to others.

"We are working with county health departments, hospitals and physicians in the region to identify any additional cases related to this outbreak," Gerald said. "We also caution the public to be aware of the symptoms of E. coli infection and to contact their doctor or local health department if they are experiencing symptoms or illness."

E. coli infection can spread from person to person; however, it can be prevented through frequent hand washing, particularly after using the rest room, after changing diapers, after touching animals and before eating, drinking or preparing food.

The symptoms of E. coli infection vary for each person but often include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea (sometimes bloody), and vomiting.

"We are starting to interview some folks tomorrow (Friday) who went to the fair and did not get sick so we can compare," Wyant said.

Most people get better within five to seven days. Some infections are very mild, but others can be severe or even life-threatening.

"In some cases in young children, this infection can lead to serious complications, so parents should not send sick children to day care or to school to avoid passing it on to others," Gerald said.