E. coli outbreak grows to 81 cases

by: Linzi Sheldon Updated:


CLEVELAND COUNTY, N.C. - On Thursday, N.C. health officials said the E. coli outbreak linked to the Cleveland County Fair has infected 81 people so far and may have started with exposure to animals there.

Eyewitness News discovered the animals went to different places after the fair was over.

The petting zoo returned to Circle G ranch in Strawberry Plains, Tenn.

The pig races, which don't allow contact, and the animal oddities exhibit, which has some contact with fairgoers, went to the North Carolina State Fair in Raleigh.

Tennessee health officials said that "staff members are now working closely with the N.C. Department of Health" and depending on certain results, "we may go to the farm and sample animals."

The North Carolina Department of Agriculture oversees the fair.

Spokesperson Brian Long said they did not notify fairgoers about the animals.

"Both of these exhibits were inspected prior to the opening of the State Fair and are visited by animal health staff multiple times a day," Long said in a statement. "There are signs at all animal exhibits advising visitors that contact with animals may pose a health risk...In addition, hand-washing stations are positioned near animal exhibits."

Cleveland County Health Director Dorothea Wyant pointed out than an animal that sheds E. coli one day may not do the same the next day.

She said they are asking the Cleveland County Fair not to host any events until they get the results of the samples state officials took on Wednesday, 10 days after the fair ended and after sites had been disinfected. At the instruction of state health officials, fair staff plowed, disinfected and reseeded the petting zoo on Friday.

Eyewitness News asked about the reason for the delay.

State health officials said they didn't start testing the animal sites until now because they weren't sure whether the E. coli was connected to food vendors or the animals.

They also said the E. coli in the soil wouldn't go away, citing soil samples that showed E. coli six months after an outbreak at the N.C. State Fair in 2004.

State health officials added that the responses from victims and what they touched are also important.

Spokesperson Julie Henry said they don't believe the delay in testing will have a "significant effect on the outcome of the investigation."