Toddler Death from E. Coli Reminds Parents of Petting Zoo Dangers
A little boy from Maine died after petting animals at the county fair
Chances are you've heard of the dangers that petting zoos and cute animals at country fairs can pose to kids, and that you should wash your child's hands as soon as humanly possible after he touches the sheep, goats or other creatures. The risk: Ingesting bacteria such as salmonella or E. coli.
A recent death reminds us of the potential perils. After a September visit to a county fair, 21-month-old Colton Guay of Maine came down with hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a disease caused by E. coli. He later died. Guay's father, Jon Guay, believes his son was exposed to the deadly bacteria while petting farm animals.
Guay wasn’t the only child who may have become seriously ill at the Oxford County Fair, the Maine Sun Journal reports. Another toddler is in intensive care at Maine Medical Center battling HUS, according to a post on his father’s Facebook page.
A spokesman for the Maine Center for Disease Control told the Maine Sun Journal an investigation is in progress.
The E. coli-animal connection
The large and diverse group of bacteria known as E. coli is found in the intestines of animals, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Some kinds can cause diarrhea, while others can cause urinary tract infections, respiratory illness and pneumonia.
HUS, in which red blood cells are destroyed and then clog the filtering system in the kidneys, is caused by a particular strain of E. coli, according to the Mayo Clinic. It can lead to life-threatening kidney failure. In Guay's case, the disease attacked his brain. “It began with severe diarrhea and ended with massive brain seizures that ultimately took his life,” Guay's father wrote in a Facebook post.
Most cases of HUS develop in young children, but the Mayo Clinic says adults also can develop the condition, though the cause in adults may be certain medications or another type of infection. Symptoms include bloody diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain, pale skin, fatigue, fever, blood in the urine or decreased urination, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Petting zoo safety 101
If you bring your child to a petting zoo or a fair where animals are within kids' reach, take these precautions, the CDC advises:
- Thoroughly wash with soap and water after leaving the animal exhibits, even if your or your child didn't touch or pet. Use hand sanitizer if there's no sink — but wash up for real as soon as you get to one.
- Don't bring drinks or food into animal areas.
- Don't allow your child to put his thumb, fingers or pacifiers in his mouth while interacting with animals.
- Don't take strollers, bottles, pacifiers, spill-proof cups or toys into animal areas.