E. coli outbreak traced to Minnesota State Fair, officials say

An E. coli outbreak that has affected at least 11 people has been traced back to an animal attraction at the Minnesota State Fair, state health officials said.

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The people who fell ill range in age from 2 to 23 years, visited the fair between Aug. 25 and Sept. 2 and became ill between Aug. 29 and Sept. 6, the Minnesota Department of Health said in a statement.

Six of those patients were hospitalized and one developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a severe complication that affects the blood and kidneys and can be fatal, The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported. One patient remains hospitalized.

State investigators found that eight of the 10 patients interviewed had visited the Miracle of Birth Center at the fair -- an attraction that features baby animals and often live births, the Star-Tribune reported. Most of the ill people had contact with calves, goats, sheep or piglets in the exhibit, the statement said. In other cases, the person had no direct contact with the animals, but may have been exposed through contaminated surfaces.

“There’s been all kinds of outbreaks where people touched a contaminated surface like a fence rail or the bleachers. These germs have a way of making their way around a building,” Kirk Smith, an epidemiologist with the Minnesota Department of Health, told the Star-Tribune.

MDH officials recommend in the statement to always wash your hands after being around livestock and their enclosures.

“It’s a strong reminder for people going to pumpkin patches, apple orchards or other agricultural operations that have livestock, to be aware,” Smith said. “Even healthy animals can carry E. coli O157. It does not necessarily make them ill. You need to wash your hands.”

Health officials believe there's little chance of ongoing exposure since the fair has ended, but still consider the outbreak to be important news so health care providers stay aware and people get proper treatment.

Common symptoms of E. coli are stomach cramps and diarrhea, the statement said. Most of the time, symptoms begin showing two to five days after exposure, but this can range from one to eight days.

Anyone who believes they may have developed an E. coli infection should contact their health care provider.