To many parents, a trip to petting zoo seems like a blessed break from the chaos of current events. Everyone gets a moment to ignore schedules and put away screens in favor of petting bunnies and ducks and goats.
Yet petting zoos carry their own peculiar risks — and sometimes they can even threaten lives. That’s the terrible truth that one San Diego, California, family may have learned in the worst possible way.
However, this year, the petting zoo allegedly spread something more than good cheer. During the month of June, four children ranging in age from 2 to 13 have come down with Escherichia coli (aka E. Coli) after visiting the exhibit.
The Los Angeles Times stressed Friday that public health officials can’t explicitly link the cases of infection to the petting zoo yet because all of the tests haven’t come back from the lab.
However, they felt the exhibit was enough of a risk to shut it down on June 29.
“We have taken this step to restrict access to animals at the fair in an abundance of caution,” said Dr. Eric McDonald, medical director of San Diego’s public health department’s epidemiology and immunization services.
Sadly, it proved too late for 2-year-old Jedidiah King Cabezuela. The little boy had gone to the Del Mar Fairgrounds on June 15.
While there, he visited the petting zoo. One can only imagine his delight as all of the animals scurried around him.
He fell ill four days later. E. coli typically causes unpleasant symptoms such as cramping and gastrointestinal distress.
However, Jedidiah didn’t suffer from your standard case of the bacteria. He developed something called hemolytic uremic syndrome, a rare complication that can sometimes turn fatal.
The syndrome causes inflammation in the kidneys. That, in turn, can lead to clotting, which can prompt further organ failure and eventually death.
Tragically, little Jedidiah succumbed to his illness on June 24.
“Our sympathies go out to the family of the child that died from this illness,” public health officer Dr. Wilma J. Wooten said in a press release. “While most people recover from this illness without complications, 5 to 10 percent of people diagnosed with [E. Coli] develop the life-threatening kidney infection.”
The three other children infected with E. coli have not shown signs of hemolytic uremic syndrome.
Further tests by public health officials have not revealed any other contamination in the fair’s other exhibits or food stalls. Officials reminded the public that thorough hand washing can easily kill the bacteria.
A GoFundMe campaign for Jedidiah’s family raised more than $22,000 in less than a week. In addition to donations, members of the public left messages of support for the family.
“I just lost my son this year, and he was 13 years old. This mother lost her baby at 2,” one wrote.
“I can only imagine the heartache. Prayers for the entire family.”
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