E. Coli outbreak that killed toddler hits 10 confirmed cases, Calif. officials say

An E. Coli outbreak linked to the San Diego County Fair has reached 10 confirmed cases, including a toddler who died of the bacterial infection last month, health officials said Wednesday.

The cause of the outbreak is still under investigation, but health officials said that all of the children afflicted “were reported to have visited the animal areas, the petting zoo, or had other animal contact at the San Diego Fair,” which ended on the Fourth of July. Health officials shut down the fair’s animal exhibits on June 28 after the outbreak was discovered, NBC San Diego reports.

Three of the people with E. Coli needed to be hospitalized, the county’ Health and Human Services Agency said. Officials said a probable case was reported in addition to the 10 confirmed cases.

Health officials said inspectors looked at food facilities the children visited while at the fair, but those vendors had “no link to the cases.”

Most people who are diagnosed with Shiga-toxin-producing E. Coli, or STEC, fully recover with no problems, according to county public health officer Dr. Wilma J. Wooten — but “5 to 10 percent of people diagnosed with STEC develop a life-threatening kidney infection,” Wooten said.

That’s what happened in the case of 2-year-old Jedidiah Cabezuela, who went to the fair June 15, grew ill days later and died June 24, McClatchy reported last month. A GoFundMe account the boy’s family created to cover expenses said he was an “energetic, smiley, loving, silly 2 year old precious boy.” That fundraiser collected more than $26,000, according to the GoFundMe page.

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When new cases linked to the fair were announced in July, Wooten said that “more cases are likely to be reported” and explained that “this is typical of any public health investigation.”

“Since we asked doctors to be on the lookout for STEC, they are more likely to test patients exhibiting symptoms,” Wooten said.

Symptoms of an infection include vomiting, abdominal cramps and bloody or watery diarrhea, health officials said. A low fever is possible, with most patients recovering in five to seven days. The very young, old and those with weak immune systems are most at risk for infection.

Handwashing and other hygiene practices after touching animals can help prevent infection, health officials said.

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Jared Gilmour is a McClatchy national reporter based in San Francisco. He covers everything from health and science to politics and crime. He studied journalism at Northwestern University and grew up in North Dakota.