Health officials investigating 11 cases of E. coli O157 linked to State Fair

Updated: September 17, 2019 06:12 PM

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) is investigating an outbreak of E. coli O157 infections associated with the Minnesota State Fair, the department said Tuesday.

MDH said investigators recently identified 11 cases among Minnesotans who visited the State Fair prior to becoming ill. Those people reported visiting between Aug. 25 and Sept. 2, and became ill between Aug. 29 and Sept. 6. Those affected range in age from 2 to 43, MDH said.


Six of those affected were hospitalized, and one developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a potentially fatal complication, MDH said. One person remains hospitalized.

Health officials are working to determine the source of the outbreak, but evidence suggests contact with livestock is the most likely factor, according to MDH. Most of those affected reported visiting the Miracle of Birth exhibit and having contact with calves, goats, sheep or piglets. However, some cases didn't have direct contact with animals and may have been exposed through contact with contaminated surfaces, like fence rails. MDH said it serves as a strong reminder to always wash your hands after being around livestock and their enclosures.

"There is nothing healthier and better cared for than a state fair animal.  But any animal, if you handle it, it can make you sick.  That's why it's so importnat to wash your hands," said Joni Scheftel with the Minnesota Department of Health.

MDH said preliminary lab tests of the bacteria indicate the E. coli O157 strains are closely related.

Tuesday afternoon the Minnesota State Fair issued the following statement:

The health and safety of our fair guests and exhibitors are always a top priority. We will continue to work with the Minnesota Department of Health to determine the cause of the E. coli 0157 infections. We currently have several procedures in place to prevent the spread of illness including available hand washing stations as well as educational signage and will explore if any changes or additions should be made for the 2020 Minnesota State Fair.

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Officials said there's little chance of ongoing exposure since the fair has ended, but the potential health impacts of the bacteria make it important so anyone affected get proper treatment.

"These infections can have serious health impacts and there is always a chance that an ill person can pass along the infection to others through close contact," Scheftel said. "Anyone who believes they may have developed an E. coli O157 infection should contact their health care provider. E. coli O157 infections should not be treated with antibiotics, as this might lead to serious complications."

Symptoms typically include stomach cramps and diarrhea, often with bloody stools, but only a low-grade or no fever. People can become ill two to five days after exposure, but it can range from one to eight days. Those most at risk include children under the age of 10, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems.

The bacteria can be passed from person-to-person through fecal-oral transmission, particularly among families with children still in diapers, health officials said. MDH said children with diarrhea should not attend child care. Family members and caregivers of recently ill children should wash their hands after changing diapers, going to the bathroom, and before eating. E. coli O157 can be passed in the stool for weeks, and occasionally months, after symptoms resolve.

MDH said about 130 cases of E. coli O157 are reported each year in Minnesota. You can find more information on it here.

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