Washington County Public Health is investigating several cases of diarrheal illness caused by Shiga Toxin-producing Escherichia coli (E. coli) or “STEC” bacteria. A source has not been identified, and the investigation is ongoing. One of the potential sources Public Health is looking into is contact with livestock at the Washington County Fair. Food items unrelated to the fair are also being investigated.

Anyone who attended the Washington County Fair and has had (or develops) any of the following symptoms should call their health care provider.

Symptoms of STEC infection can vary but often include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea (often bloody), vomiting and sometimes fever. Some infections are very mild, but others are severe or even life-threatening.

“This type of infection is highly contagious even when symptoms are mild,” says Deputy Health Officer Dr. Christina Baumann. “To prevent the spread of disease, people with diarrhea should stay home while sick and avoid handling food or preparing food for others.”

A small number of infected individuals develop a potentially life-threatening complication known as hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). Young children are at the highest risk for this complication. Signs that a person is developing HUS include decreased urination, feeling very tired, and losing pink color in cheeks and inside the lower eyelids. HUS, if it occurs, often develops after the earlier symptoms of diarrhea have improved.

“The best way to prevent getting STEC infection is by washing hands well with soap and water,” says Deputy Health Officer Dr. Christina Baumann. “It’s very important to wash your hands after using the bathroom or changing diapers, before preparing or eating food, and after contact with animals or their environments at farms, petting zoos and fairs.”

STEC outbreaks at fairs are not uncommon. There are several county and state fairs still to come this season. Fairgoers should take the following precautions to keep themselves and their children healthy:

  • Do not put anything in your mouth in the animal areas, including food, beverage, pacifiers, toys or hands.
  • Leave any unnecessary items outside the animal areas.
  • Be aware that objects such as clothing, shoes and strollers can be contaminated with germs in the animal areas.
  • Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands!
  • Be sure to supervise your children to make sure they are washing their hands well.