by: Linzi Sheldon Updated:CLEVELAND COUNTY, N.C. —
The family of a 3-year-old Cleveland County boy who became sick with an E. coli infection from the N.C. State Fair last year now plans to sue the state.
The mother of Hunter Tallent said she is taking legal action because she wants to see fairs become safer and because she wants the state to help pay for her son's medical expenses.
Twenty-seven children and adults contracted E. coli at the fair in 2011. This year, fair officials added better lighting and more signs for the hand-washing stations.
Three-year-old Hunter Tallent is energetic and fearless on his playground, but it's a different story when he has to see the doctor.
"What do you think about going to the doctor's? You don't like it?" his mother, Lindsay Tallent said as her son shook his head.
Tallent said Hunter cries when he has to see the doctor and recently became emotional when they drove into Charlotte because he recognized it as the place he spent 16 days in the hospital.
Hunter is on medication and has to see a kidney specialist every six months as well as another doctor in between.
"There's a lot of days where he stays sick a lot," Tallent said. "He has his ups and downs. He is a happy boy. He tries to be happy even when he's sick."
Tallent said she took him in a stroller to see the animals at the fair, but he didn't touch them.
The fair had signs advising parents not use strollers but Tallent said she didn't see them.
She said she wasn't aware stroller wheels could pick up bacteria on the ground that could be dangerous.
Her attorney, Sean Cobourn, said there needs to be more of those signs and that the fair should educate people that E. coli is a real risk.
"It's our position they were inadequate and didn't explain the true dangers," he said.
Officials with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture said they do not comment on pending litigation.
Tallent said she's frustrated more people are sick from another outbreak-- this one at the Cleveland County fair.
On Wednesday, state health officials announced that the number of probable and confirmed E. coli cases linked to that fair had jumped from 46 to 61. Thirty-eight of the cases are children; 23 are adults. State health officials were at the fair site in Shelby Wednesday collecting soil samples.
"It brings back a lot of memories just hearing about it again," she said. "It's not something any parent wants to go through with their child."
While some county health officials said more people sick with E. coli have a connection to the petting zoo than anything else, state health officials said today they have not ruled out anything, including food vendors.
Wednesday marks the end of the incubation period for E. coli, so officials do not expect a similar, dramatic increase in cases on Thursday.
But they said people could still get the bacteria from others already infected and are emphasizing the importance of hand-washing.
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