(BUSINESS WIRE)--Eating contaminated food is still far and away the most common way for people to become infected with E. coli O157:H7, a deadly pathogen that sickens more than 70,000 Americans each year.
But national food safety law firm PritzkerOlsen Attorneys is reminding families early in 2009 that contact with animals at livestock shows, petting zoos and other exhibits is another proven way for the organism to travel.
The law firm's warning stems from a current E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in Colorado. Health officials there are investigating an apparent connection between a growing number of genetically matched infections and attendance at the recent Western National Stock Show in Denver.
According to numerous press reports, at least 20 people who live on the Front Range in Colorado have been infected with the same strain of E. coli. Sixteen of the illnesses are in children who attended the animal exhibit, including a child who is 17 months old. The two-week show drew more than 643,000 attendees before it ended January 25 and health officials expect the number of E. coli O157:H7 infections in the current outbreak to grow.
"This outbreak should not have happened and could have been prevented," said Fred Pritzker, founder and president of PritzkerOlsen. "When stock shows encourage or permit public contact with animals, there is a well known risk of E. coli O157:H7 infection and equally well known measures that should be in place to prevent such infections."
Pritzker said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians, Inc. (NASPHV) published a compendium of such infection prevention measures almost four years ago.
"Although the matter is still under investigation, it seems likely that rules of this sort were not implemented or followed," he said.
Escherichia coli O157:H7 is a rare variety of E. coli that produces a toxin that causes severe damage to the lining of the intestine. Specifically, the acute disease caused by E. coli O157:H7 is hemorrhagic colitis. E. coli O157:H7 can also result in hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), the leading cause of kidney failure in children in the United States.
With the understanding that children are more at risk for being seriously injured or killed by E. coli O157:H7 infection, it is imperative for families and school groups to take precautions while attending petting zoos, livestock shows and other animal exhibits. Based on guidelines set by the CDC and the National Ag Safety Database, PritzkerOlsen presents the following strategies to reduce the risk of E. coli transmission in settings with animals:
* Locate hand-washing stations and always wash your hands after being in an area with animals, even if you don't touch them. Bacteria can be spread by shaking hands, touching railings or coming in contact with soil.
* Running water and soap are best for hand washing. Where there is no running water, hand sanitizing gel is better than nothing.
* Don't consume food or drinks in any area shared with animals.
* Older adults, pregnant women, people with weakened immune systems and young children should be extra careful.
* Avoid hand-mouth activities such as smoking, drinking or nail biting in any area shared with animals.
* Do not eat or drink raw (unpasteurized) milk or other dairy products.
* Children younger than 5 years old need adult supervision around animals.
* Never allow children to put their hands, toys, pacifiers or other objects in their mouths while around animals.
* Supervise the hand washing of children.
* Even after hand washing, be aware that exposure to E. coli O157:H7 can come from shoes, contaminated clothing or even strollers that were in areas shared with animals.
PritzkerOlsen currently is representing victims of the nationwide Salmonella outbreak linked to peanut butter and peanut products made by Peanut Corporation of America at a plant in Blakely, Georgia. The Minneapolis-based firm is representing the families of two Minnesota women who died in the outbreak after consuming contaminated peanut butter served on toast.
In one case, Pritzker already has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Peanut Corporation of America and King Nut Companies, a peanut butter distributor.
PritzkerOlsen has considerable experience and a reputation for success in representing survivors of foodborne illnesses, including E. coli, Listeria, Salmonella and Shigella. The firm is involved in virtually every national outbreak and has collected large sums on behalf of people injured or killed by adulterated food.
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