SALEM, Ohio — Fingers are once again pointing to the Medina County Fair as the source of an E. coli outbreak in northeast Ohio this summer.
A preliminary report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Ohio Department of Health says a probable source may have been contaminated water lines.
After investigation, health officials pinpointed a group of eight vendors located near each other where the victims were likely to consume beverages made from fair water or with fair ice. The investigation also determined the victims were more likely to have visited the fair Aug. 4-6.
All concessions in the targeted zone were supplied by the same branch of a water system that ends in the show arena building. This represents a dead-end distribution system where water could stand for a long period of time.
There was a water break in this branch July 29, two days before the start of the fair, which might have added an unusual amount of standing water.
“We don’t know how long it was in the water. Tests of the water after the breakout were negative for the bacteria,” said Jay Carey, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Health.
According to the CDC report, an environmental investigation revealed several potential problems. Hoses that supplied animal areas were often connected to spigots that also supplied concessions. Fairgrounds spigots are not equipped with back-flow prevention, however vendors are required to have devices on their mobile units.
Hoses to animal areas were not equipped with such devices. This increases the opportunity for the entry of animal contaminated water to concessions in low pressure situations.
Carey stressed the report is preliminary and a final report will not be available for another three to six months.
There were 43 E. coli cases reported in northeast Ohio, and of these, 27 attended the Medina County Fair and were determined to be affected by E. coli O157:H7, Carey said. The other 16 victims did not attend the fair and were each affected by one of 13 different E. coli strains.