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Final Findings Regarding E coli. Outbreak

Discover Ferndale first broke the story in late April regarding school children becoming sick after attending the Milk Makers Fest at the Northwest Washington Fairgrounds during field trips during April 21st to the 23rd.

Once the community became aware of the how to identify and react to the symptoms, 25 people were confirmed to have been infected and ten required hospitalization. Six developed HUS (a type of kidney failure) and no one died as a result of being infected.

The Whatcom County Health Department, the Washington State Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention all became involved in the subsequent investigation of the outbreak and the source.

Today, June 3rd, a “final” report was released by the Whatcom County Health Department. It states,

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The results of analyzing the data collected during the interviews are not final, but a few preliminary findings stand out:

  • Event attendees who reported washing or sanitizing their hands before eating lunch were less likely to become ill.
  • Children who reported always biting their nails were more likely to become ill.
  • Leaving animal areas without washing hands might have contributed to an increased risk of transmission.
  • Eating in animal areas might have contributed to an increased risk of transmission.


It was also pointed out that the E Coli. strain was found in the the Dairy Barn in the manure bunker, hay maze area, and bleachers by both the west and east walls.

Recommendations for future event organizers included plans for sanitizing areas with high levels of hand contact, keep attendees away from areas likely to be contaminated with manure and provide for and encourage washing hands when leaving animal areas.

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Recommendations for attendees included washing hands when leaving animal areas, eating away from animal areas and recognizing clothing, shoes and stroller wheels can serve as a source of germs after leaving an animal area.

NW Washington Fair General Manager Jim Baron responded in an emailed statement,

We have been working closely with the Department of Health and the CDC to help determine how this outbreak happened, and what we can do to make events safer for those who join any activity at the Northwest Washington Fair.

The reality is that any time groups host events in proximity to livestock, there is always a heightened chance of coming in contact with bacteria, including E. coli. What we do know is that the most effective way to prevent contamination is through common-sense steps, including appropriate hand-washing and sanitization.

In our conversations with the CDC and others, we all acknowledge that finding ways to reduce the threat of the transmission of bacteria is an evolving process. Through our work, and with the cooperation of the Health Department and CDC, we will continue examine, refine and enhance our efforts to make Northwest Washington Fair facilities safe for our guests.

Our thoughts continue to be with the families affected by the April outbreak and we wish them comfort through the healing process.


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