Officials say E. coli outbreak linked to petting zoo at fair

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. —

State and county health officials said an E. coli outbreak started in the petting zoo at the Cleveland County Fair and spread because of the rain.

Eyewitness News found a fence around the petting zoo area with signs warning people to keep out.

On Friday afternoon, health officials pointed out that area on a map. But they said they are still not sure how it went from the soil there to 106 people, some of them, like 5-year-old Hannah Roberts, who never went to the petting zoo.

Her mother is not pleased with Friday's findings.

“That's not good enough for me,” Tracey Roberts said.

Hannah was back in the hospital Friday. Two weeks after her release, she is still suffering from the effects of her E. coli infection.

“I want more investigations, because it will ensure that no other family has to go through this again,” Roberts said.

State and local health officials said that is why they are assembling a task force to look into the transmission of the disease.

They believe the rain that fell during most of the fair days made it easier for the disease to spread, but pinpointing the transmission will be hard.

“It's not easy.  It can be done and it is work that we have to do, but we need to take our time and understand what happened,” said Evelyn Foust with the N.C. Department of Health.

They called the death of 2-year-old Gage Lefevers heartbreaking. He died while receiving treatment for his infection.

Still health officials say no laws were broken and no procedures were violated.

“There are times when circumstances that we can't control happen,” Foust said.

Eyewitness News asked health officials if their task force has a deadline for finding answers. They said the fair season in North Carolina begins in June. They hope to have recommendations for changes by then.