Authorities believe 20-month-old Colton Guay in Maine contracted the E. coli virus.
A toddler in Maine has died from what authorities believe was a deadly strain of E. coli he got while visiting a petting zoo at the county fair.
Colton Guay, who was 20 months old, died on Monday not long after visiting the petting zoo at the Oxford County Fair, according to a Fox News report.
While many strains of E. coli are harmless, the disease can result in anemia and kidney failure. Colton apparently came down with Hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which destroys red blood cells, leading to his death by disabling the kidney’s filtering system and resulting in organ failure. This is more common in children than adults and is typically the cause of most kidney failures for children based on National Institutes of Health data, according to the report.
While it is not confirmed that Colton contracted the disease from the petting zoo, another toddler who also visited the petting zoo came down with E. coli as well and contracted HUS.
The death was devastating to the family. His father, Jon Guay, posted to social media that he and his wife, Beth, had witnessed their son deal with severe diarrhea and then brain seizures at the hospital, where he ultimately died. The tragedy happened at around the same time the couple received news that they would be having a second baby, a girl, early next year. He said there is “no pain worse than losing the life of your [child].”
“I am relieved to know that he is in a better place free from any further pain or suffering,” he added. “Life is precious and can be taken from you without warning. It is truly important to let those closest to you know how much you care about them.”
Petting zoos are popular parts of county fairs where children have the opportunity to interact with and touch animals. However, as this recent incident demonstrates, it can be fraught with health risks.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that many people get sick annually due to petting zoos, because animals often carry harmful germs. There are a few precautions people should take when they visit one.
For one thing, everyone should wash their hands often, and therefore people should be aware of where there are washing stations. You should wash your hands immediately after petting animals or touching any part of the animal’s enclosure. Even if you didn’t touch any animals, you should wash your hands when you leave the area. Using soap and water should be enough. If that isn’t available, use hand sanitizers and wash your hands with soap and water as soon as you find an opportunity.
You should also avoid eating and drinking in animal areas. Food and beverages should only be consumed in areas where animals aren’t allowed, except for service animals. Definitely don’t share food with the animals.
Children who are younger than 5 years old should be supervised at all times in these areas, and children shouldn’t put their fingers or objects like pacifiers in their mouth when they interact with animals. The adults should also supervise their hand washing.
E. coli, which is short for Escherichia coli, is a rod-shaped bacterium from the genus Escherichia that is typically found in the lower intestine of warm-blooded creatures. Most strains tend to be harmless to humans, but some types can result in serious food poisoning, and it is indeed one of the most common causes of food poisoning in the United States. Reports of E. coli are also one of the most common reasons for large scale food recalls for contamination.
There are actually harmless strains that make up part of the normal flora in our guts, and they can even provide a benefit by producing vitamin K2, preventing pathogenic bacteria from colonizing in the intestine. E. coli makes up about 0.1 percent of gut flora.
This bacteria is typically contracted through fecal-oral transmission. Because the cells can survive outside the body for a short period of time, they are excellent at finding a way to be transmitted through fecal contamination. Some E. coli can even survive for an extended period of time outside the body.
The most common risk factors for contracting harmful E. coli is working around livestock and therefore being in contact with potentially contaminated fecal matter. For consumers, it is eating undercooked meat, drinking tainted water, or consuming a dairy product that has not been pasteurized.
Most E. coli cases can be prevented by washing hands, not cross-contaminating foods, keeping food at cold temperatures, and not eating raw meat.