The Associated Press reports tonight that Georgia state health officials are investigating whether E. coli (presumably, E. coli O157:H7) was spread at the Georgia National Fair held earlier this month.

The Georgia Department of Public Health said it has confirmed four cases of the illness among children who were at the event in Perry from Oct. 7 to Oct. 17, news outlets reported. Three of them are now hospitalized.

E. coli is a bacterium that can cause diarrhea, cramps, nausea, and even kidney damage in some severe cases. It can be passed in several ways, like eating raw vegetables and undercooked ground beef. It can also be spread person-to-person on unwashed hands and surfaces, or by touching animals at petting zoos which the Georgia National Fair had.

The DPH and the North Central Health District are working with fair staff to determine how the children became infected.

“We are hoping we don’t see any more cases, but we encourage anyone that feels like they may have been infected to contact their primary care physician, “ said NCHD spokesperson Michael Hokanson.

Hokanson said they’ve created an online survey that they hope will help them pinpoint the cause of the problem. Anyone who went to the fair can fill it out — even if they did not get sick after the event. State epidemiologists are working to determine what could have caused the outbreak by comparing activities between those who became sick and those who did not.

It takes some people with a mild E.coli infection a week to recover, but young children, elderly adults and people with chronic medical conditions have a higher risk of a severe illness.

In addition, the North Central Health District (NCHD) and the Department of Public Health (DPH) are working with the staff of the Georgia National Fairgrounds & Agricenter to investigate cases of E.coli in attendees of the Georgia National Fair.

As of Oct. 28, NCHD and DPH have identified four cases of shiga-toxin producing E.coli (STEC) infection in attendees of the Georgia National Fair in Perry, which was held Oct. 7-17. All 4 confirmed cases are in children that reside in counties across the state of Georgia, and thee of these cases have been hospitalized. Of the four cases, one has been confirmed to be E.coli O157:H7.

NCHD and DPH epidemiologists are just beginning the investigation. Moving forward, the investigation will include case identification, laboratory testing, community surveying to assess risk factors/source of infection and more.

Anyone that attended the fair can help by completing the following survey:

Epidemiologists ask each person that visited the Georgia National Fair between Thursday, Oct. 7 and Sunday, Oct. 17, to complete the survey, even if they did not become ill. All information provided to public health will remain confidential in accordance with HIPAA practices. Information will be used to investigate and determine what could have caused illness by comparing activities between those who became sick and those who did not. A map of the fairgounds is included below to aid in survey completion.

What is STEC?

E. coli is a large family of bacteria; most strains of E.coli are harmless, but some can lead to illness. STEC, shiga toxin-producing E. coli, cause illness by producing toxin. The most commonly identified STEC in North America is E.coli O157:H7.

How is STEC transmitted?

STEC infects a person most commonly when the individual ingests contaminated material. Contamination is usually caused by tiny particles of human or animal excrement. Exposures that lead to illness include eating contaminated food, drinking unpasteurized milk, drinking water that has not been disinfected, contact with live animals or contact with the feces of infected people. Examples of infection sources include petting zoos and animal exhibits, swallowing lake water while swimming or eating food prepared by people who did not wash their hands thoroughly after using the restroom. Almost everyone has some risk of infection.

What are symptoms of STEC?

STEC can lead to different symptoms for each person, but common symptoms include stomach cramps, diarrhea, vomiting and mild fever. Symptoms of STEC usually appear between three and four days, but incubation can last up to 10 days before symptoms. Most individuals recover within a week. Some infections are mild, but others may be severe or life-threatening. Very young children, elderly adults and people with chronic medical conditions have a higher risk of severe outcomes.

How can I treat STEC?

There is no specific treatment for STEC. Supportive therapy, especially hydration, is important. Antibiotics should not be used to treat infection.

What can I do to prevent STEC transmission?

You can reduce your risk of STEC prevention by following these practices:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly after using the restroom, changing diapers, interacting with animals and before preparing or eating food.
  • Cook meats thoroughly.
  • Avoid raw milk and unpasteurized dairy products or juices.
  • Do not swallow water from lakes, rivers, ponds or swimming pools.
  • Prevent contamination when preparing food by keeping raw meats away from other ingredients. Use different cutting boards and utensils after handling raw meat.
  • If you are ill:
    • stay away from work, school or physical activities.
    • Do not handle or prepare food for anyone but yourself.
    • Wait at least 48 hours after symptoms disappear before returning to your regular schedule.
    • If symptoms do not disappear, or if they get worse, contact your healthcare provider.
  • If you are caring for someone who is ill:
    • practice proper hand hygiene.
    • handle and dispose of the ill individual’s waste properly.
    • wash any soiled clothing or linens that may be contaminated.
    • disinfect contaminated surfaces.

For more information on STEC, visit the following CDC webpages:

Use the fairground map included here to complete the survey.

E. coli: Marler Clark, The Food Safety Law Firm, is the nation’s leading law firm representing victims of E. coli outbreaks and hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). The E. coli lawyers of Marler Clark have represented thousands of victims of E. coli and other foodborne illness infections and have recovered over $800 million for clients. Marler Clark is the only law firm in the nation with a practice focused exclusively on foodborne illness litigation. Our E. coli lawyers have litigated E. coli and HUS cases stemming from outbreaks traced to ground beef, raw milk, lettuce, spinach, sprouts, and other food products.  The law firm has brought E. coli lawsuits against such companies as Jack in the Box, Dole, ConAgra, Cargill, and Jimmy John’s.  We have proudly represented such victims as Brianne Kiner, Stephanie Smith and Linda Rivera.

If you or a family member became ill with an E. coli infection or HUS after consuming food and you’re interested in pursuing a legal claim, contact the Marler Clark E. coli attorneys for a free case evaluation.

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