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O.C. Fair emphasizes hand-washing after child illnesses and death linked to animals at San Diego County Fair

Think Together’s Shalmar Learning Center student Alex (no last names allowed to be used) pets a smal
Some strains of E. coli can be transmitted through direct contact with animals and can lead to illness with symptoms including fever, abdominal cramps, diarrhea and vomiting.
(File Photo)

The Orange County Fair is enhancing its sanitation practices in livestock areas in light of the death of a young boy who possibly picked up a virulent strain of the E. coli bacteria from a petting zoo last month at the San Diego County Fair.

At this year’s O.C. Fair, which starts July 12 and runs through Aug. 11, additional staff members are being hired to monitor cleanliness and remind visitors to wash their hands in animal areas, officials at the Costa Mesa fairgrounds said. Also, signage is being enhanced in multiple languages in existing hand-washing areas, and additional educational material and training are being provided to staff, volunteers and animal exhibitors.

Staff also is restructuring the exit path from the petting zoo to guide visitors to the hand-washing station, where workers will instruct guests to wash their hands.

Escherichia coli, a normal and often harmless bacteria that lives in the intestines of humans and animals, is best killed by washing hands with soap and water, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Exposure doesn’t always lead to illness, but some strains can lead to fever, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, vomiting and, in extreme cases, organ failure.

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It can be transmitted through undercooked meat, contaminated water or by getting microscopic traces of infected feces in the mouth — something that starts with direct contact with animals.

“The safety and protection of our guests is the No. 1 priority of the O.C. Fair. We will redouble our efforts to educate everyone on our fairgrounds, including fair-goers, about the absolute importance of hand-washing whenever anyone is in an animal area,” Kathy Kramer, chief executive of the OC Fair & Event Center, said in a statement. “Animals are an important part of our agricultural heritage, and we want people to continue to learn about them in a safe manner.”

O.C. Fair staff said all animal enclosures are cleaned daily and are sanitized and power-washed when exhibits are changed. The petting zoo is sanitized daily, and animals are brushed each day and washed throughout the fair, officials said.

The 2-year-old boy in San Diego County died June 24 of complications related to E. coli infection a little more than a week after visiting the petting zoo at the Del Mar fairgrounds. Three other children, ages 9 to 13, were sickened after visiting the fair’s animals.

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The San Diego County health department shut down all animal exhibits to the public through the remainder of the fair there, which ends Thursday, as a precaution while investigation into the children’s illnesses continues.

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