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N.C. Agriculture, Health Officials Identify Source of E. coli Outbreak

For release: Immediate    November 10, 2011
Contact: Julie Henry (919) 208-8137


RALEIGH – A public health investigation into the recent E. coli outbreak in North Carolina has determined that these infections were likely transmitted in the Kelley Building at the North Carolina State Fair. The Kelley Building is one of the permanent structures on the fairgrounds where sheep, goats, and pigs were housed and competed in livestock shows during the fair. No other exhibits, foods or activities were linked to the E. coli infections.

Officials with the North Carolina Division of Public Health and the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services announced Thursday they are working to identify additional protective measures for fairgoers in the future.

“From the beginning of this investigation, we have been focused on finding answers about why these illnesses occurred,” said Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler. “Using the information gathered by our Public Health partners, we can begin to assess whether additional safeguards can be put in place. Our goal is to put on the safest fair we can.”

State Epidemiologist Megan Davies said the illness is likely related to animal contact, though the study did not implicate any specific animal or breed in the outbreak.

“We know that E. coli 0157 is often found in the intestines of ruminant animals, which include cows, goats and sheep,” Davies said. “These bacteria are shed in the animal’s feces, so if it is on the animal itself or surfaces around the animal that someone touches, the bacteria can be transmitted to that person.”

The results came after a carefully conducted case-control study involving 27 individuals identified as having contracted E. coli after attending the fair in October and another 87 individuals who attended the fair, but did not get sick. Investigators from the Division of Public Health did phone and in-person interviews using a survey tool developed for this purpose that asked a comprehensive series of questions about activities at the fair. Activities included animal exhibits, foods, rides and attractions.

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