Toddlers still fight E. coli infectionsBy CHRISTINE GIRARDIN
Last update: May 19, 2005
No new cases of the potentially deadly E. coli infection have been reported in weeks, but the Volusia County families and business affected by the outbreak may never fully recover.
Port Orange resident Ava Wheatley's grandsons, ages 2 and 4, certainly aren't out of the woods yet, although both are home from extended stays at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children and Women in Orlando.
"One of their kidneys is still only working 30 percent," Wheatley said of the youngest. She has declined to give their names.
The infection, which the Florida Department of Health confirmed or suspected in 68 people statewide, including seven in Volusia County, was traced to petting zoos at Central Florida fairs in March.
Although none of the cases was linked to Barnyard Friends Animal Farm in Samsula, fear of E. coli kept so many customers from visiting the area petting zoo that owner Donna Sue Sanders was forced to close its doors.
"It could not have been blown more out of proportion," Sanders said of the reports of the outbreak.
E. coli O157:H7 is a bacterium commonly found in the digestive tract of humans and animals, but it can cause life-threatening kidney disease known as hemolytic uremic syndrome. The infection can be spread through contaminated meat, contact with domestic and farm animals, unpasteurized milk and juice, and swimming in or drinking sewage-contaminated water, according to the Florida Department of Health.
The best way to prevent E. coli infection is through hand-washing.
Wheatley suspects her grandchildren contracted the illness at the Central Florida Fair in Orlando, one of three fairs operated by Ag-Venture Farm Shows of Plant City. Ag-Venture animals displayed at that fair, and at the Florida Strawberry Festival in Plant City and the Florida State Fair in Tampa, tested positive for the bacteria.
Both children could have permanent kidney damage, and the youngest child is still too sick to return to day care, their grandmother said.
"They're just taking it one day at a time," Wheatley said.
Also hospitalized with E. coli infections were Connor Chace, 3, and 18-month old twins Courtney and Cole Chace. Family representatives of the Deltona boys could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
For Sanders, the closure of her petting zoo meant finding new homes for a few goats, two llamas and chickens, but she's moving the ponies, cows and horses to the family farm.
If enough time passes between outbreaks, Sanders said the community's collective memory of E. coli could fade enough to allow her to re-open Barnyard Friends. Still, she would need guarantees from area schools that the busloads of children who used to make day trips to the farm would be returning.
"This is such a travesty when you think that children will not have a chance to interact with these animals," Sanders said.
Meanwhile, children and adults can visit a few petting zoo animals at the Central Florida Zoo in Sanford. Of the 300 animals living at the zoo, 16 are on display in a petting area, spokesman Richard Frolich said.
"There have been no incidents (of E. coli) here in 30 years and we intend to do everything we can to keep it that way," Frolich said.
More on this outbreak: AgVenture Farms / Florida Fair E. coli Outbreak