Health officials in the state of Washington announced Monday they are investigating several suspected cases of E. coli linked to a pumpkin patch.
Three children have fallen ill, and one hospitalized, after visiting the Willow Grove Gardens Pumpkin Patch and petting zoo earlier this month.
Laboratory tests have confirmed E. coli infection in one of the children so far, with results pending for the other three cases.
E. coli are bacteria that live in the intestines of humans and animals. While most strains of the bacteria are harmless, some can cause bloody diarrhea, nausea and vomiting typically within three to four days. Young children and the elderly are particularly vulnerable to becoming seriously ill.
Children and adults can become infected with E. coli after coming into contact with the stool or hide of an infected farm animal and then touching their eyes, mouth or nose.
Cowlitz County health department’s clinical services manager, Hilary Gillette-Walch, said that while the children might have washed or sanitized their hands after leaving the petting zoo, they might have come into contact with the bacteria by picking up muddy pumpkins.
“We’re hoping people will wash their hands and their children’s hands well if they get dirty, especially if there’s manure in the mud,” Gillette-Walch said.
Health officials also warn not to eat, drink or use a pacifier in areas where animals are kept, and that adults and children should always wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water after coming into contact with animals or manure, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer when hand-washing stations are not immediately available.
Mike McKee, owner of Willow Grove Gardens, said he posted hand-washing signs all around the grounds and purchased a second hand-washing station in response to the recent infections.
"I think we're doing all we can do," McKee told KATU, a local television news station.