E. coli cases tied to outbreak now at 61

by: Linzi Sheldon Updated:

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CLEVELAND COUNTY, N.C. - The number of confirmed and probable E. coli cases linked to the Cleveland County Fair jumped again on Tuesday to 61 cases.

Thirty-six of them are children. Twenty-five are adults.

Cleveland County health officials said more people sick with E. coli have a connection to the petting zoo than the food vendors, and in fact, that is the only factor they can find among a group of cases.

Health officials do expect the current number to increase because they are not including cases with less-severe symptoms. The E. coli incubation period ends after Wednesday but secondary cases could still occur from the bacteria being passed from person to person.

Family members of some of the victims said it's heartbreaking to hear that each day more families are going through the same thing.

"It's just unbearable at times," Tracy Roberts, the mother of 5-year-old Hannah Roberts, said. "You lose it. You have your moments where you just want to fall on the floor and cry. And then you have moments that you feel strong - we're going to make this, we're going to get through it."

Hannah Roberts is on daily kidney dialysis.

Hannah's parents said they hope she will move out of the ICU Tuesday night to another floor.

They said she's weak but able to talk and even ate a little bit on Tuesday.

Both Tracy Roberts and her husband Mike said the support they've received from family, friends, and even strangers on Facebook is amazing.

They said Hannah went to the petting zoo area but a noise scared her and she didn't touch anything. Tracy Roberts said she still washed Hannah's hands. She said her daughter did ride several rides, though, and officials say the E. coli bacteria is easily transferable.

Roberts said after officials investigated an E. coli outbreak at the North Carolina state fair last year, even stronger precautions should be taken, well beyond his year's step of adding more hand-washing stations.

She said the rides and fairgrounds should be tested during the fair.

Cleveland County Fair Director Calvin Hastings said he doesn't know what the exact source of the outbreak is. He said state health officials advised them to go ahead and treat the petting zoo area like they do every year by plowing it, disinfecting it, laying grass seed, and putting straw over it.

Family said 12-year-old Jordan McNair just had his feeding tube removed but is still in a medically induced coma.

The son of Cleveland County Sheriff Alan Norman, 13-year-old Alex Norman, is under close supervision at home, where they're keeping him hydrated.

Thoughts are also with the family that lost a child to the outbreak: 2-year-old Gage Lefevers.

His father is a Gastonia police officer and on Tuesday the department announced it had helped set up a memorial fund that people can donate toward at any Wells Fargo bank to help pay for hospital and funeral expenses.

The toddler's funeral is scheduled for Wednesday.

"There's been an outpouring of love from the department to this rookie officer and his family," Donna Lahser, public information office for the Gastonia Police Department, said. "There are a lot of very generous people here calling and visiting and want to help however they can."

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