Keep Your Hands Inside the Hayride: E. Coli Outbreak in Utah linked to Fall Festivities

Utah public health officials are investigating a marked increase in E. coli infections this fall that seem to correspond with visits to petting zoos, corn mazes, and hayrides. Although the exact source has not been identified, several of the 20 cases of E. coli infections were reported following visits to these popular autumnal attractions.

Since October 1st, twenty cases of Siga toxin-producing E. coli have been reported in the Central and Southwestern regions of Utah. The infected individuals range in age from 10 months to 71 years old.  Six people were hospitalized, but no deaths have been reported. This number of cases is a marked increase from the average 13 cases of E. coli reported in Utah in October for the past five years. The Utah Department of Health is working with local health departments to investigate the illnesses and determine if there is a shared source of infection. If a shared source is found, that location may be subject to lawsuit for any medical bills, lost income, and pain and suffering endured by infected visitors.

According to the Mayo Clinic, E. coli bacteria normally live in the intestines of healthy people and animals. Many varieties are harmless or cause relatively brief gastrointestinal upset. A few strains, however, can cause severe abdominal cramps, bloody stools, and vomiting. In young children and the elderly, E. coli infection can cause a type of kidney failure caused hemolytic uremic syndrome. Potential sources of exposure include contaminated food or water, contact with cattle or livestock, and undercooked beef products. Many outbreaks have occurred among children visiting petting zoos and county fairs.

There is no vaccine or medication to prevent E. coli, but proper hand-washing technique and consuming only thoroughly-cooked foods will reduce one’s chances of contracting the bacteria.

It remains to be seen whether any litigation will result from this outbreak.  We will continue to monitor and advise of any updates.

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