e coli investigation.bmpAs reports come out relaying the statements of victims and investigators alike, a consensus on the exact cause of the recent E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in North Carolina has not emerged.

State Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said Wednesday that he is “perplexed” by the outbreak, which now counts 30 victims.  Preliminary reports have linked the outbreak to attendance at the fair, but a specific cause has not been identified.  Troxler, for his part, praised conditions at this year’s fair:

“Everybody tells me how clean the state fairgrounds are. We concentrate on that to make the State Fair clean, so I guess we’re just perplexed at how it happened,” he said.  “We have all the animals in competition inspected by state vets. The petting zoo animals have a private vet (providing) health certification on them. The food stands are inspected at least once and sometimes numerous times when they’re on the grounds.”

Investigators are conducting something called a “case control study.”  In such a study, information about the food consumption, activities, and exposures of sick persons is compared to those of persons who were not ill.  The study will include a questionnaire given to “nearly 1,000 fairgoers who didn’t get sick.”

Some of those sickened have reported NOT attending animal exhibits at the fair.  At the same time, other health officials have reported visits among the ill persons:

Sampson County Health Director Wanda Robinson said that “in all seven cases of E. coli infection in Sampson County, the sickened person touched goats at the petting zoo.”

In 2004, 108 persons were sickened in an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak tied to a petting zoo at the State Fair.