Adult male got sick after visiting Zerebko Zoo Tran traveling petting zoo at Polk County Fair in Fertile in July
The Minnesota Department of Health on Tuesday confirmed an outbreak of E. coli associated with the Zerebko Zoo Tran traveling petting zoo, who visited the Polk County Fair in Fertile from July 9-13. They have identified at least 13 people ranging in age from two to 68 with one adult male being from Polk County who has contracted the infection. Two people infected were considered to be "secondary" cases resulting from being exposed to one of the primary cases associated with the petting zoo.
"Petting zoos are fun, but as humans we need to take precautions," said Director of Polk County Public Health Sarah Reese. "We need to remember to wash our hands and be safe."
Environmental and animal fecal samples collected from the Zerebko Zoo Tran yielded the outbreak strain of E. coli. The owner, Wally Zerebko, has been cooperating in the investigation and voluntarily withheld his animals from the last two county fairs at which he was scheduled to exhibit in August.
"An environmental sample from one of the animal trailers came back positive," said Dr. Carrie Klumb, epidemiologist with the Minnesota Department of Health. "Ruminant animals such as cattle, goats and sheep can naturally have E. coli in their digestive system. It's ok for them, but bad for humans. The animals won't have to be euthanized, but researchers are working on a vaccine that can potentially reduce the amount of E. coli in their system."
Klumb added, "People need to remember that no petting zoo is completely safe. We are working with Mr. Zerebko and his veterinarians to make sure he safe to return to events next year."
People typically become ill from E. coli by getting bacteria on their hands after touching the animals or contaminated surfaces, and then swallowing the germs while eating, drinking or during other hand-to-mouth activities. Contamination can be present on the fur or in the saliva of animals, in the soil where these animals are kept, or on surfaces such as fence railings of animal pens. Symptoms include severe stomach cramps and diarrhea, often with bloody stools, but only a low-grade or no fever. People typically become ill two to five days after exposure, but this time period can range from 1 to at least 8 days. Most people recover in five to 10 days.
Those infected are from multiple counties throughout Minnesota with 10 being female, seven cases hospitalized and three of those hospitalized were children. Two of the cases developed a serious complication known as hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which affects kidney function. Currently one case is hospitalized with HUS.
Officials report that the Polk County male who became ill did not require hospitalization.
The petting zoo exhibited at the events listed below between July 4 and July 27, and there have been cases associated with each one:
- Nashwauk 4th of July Festival (7/3-7/5): 1 case
- Polk County Fair (7/9-7/13): 1 case
- Rice County Fair (7/15-7/20): 7 cases (including the 2 secondary cases)
- Olmsted County Fair (7/21-7/27): 3 cases
MDH is currently following up with one case regarding their potential animal exposures prior to their illness. Additional cases associated with attending the Olmsted County Fair could still be identified, as that was the most recent event where Zerebko Zoo Tran exhibited.
Children under 5 years, seniors, pregnant women, and people with a chronic health condition or a weak immune system are prone to serious complications from E. coli infections and should take extra care around animals.
For more information on E. coli, visit health.state.mn.us.