A young boy in Tennessee has died of a bacterial infection spread by goats at a petting zoo, health officials have confirmed.
Fourteen children and parents also became infected with the common, normally harmless insect that causes food poisoning, which was linked to goats at Lucky Ladd Farm in Eagleville, a small town outside Nashville, in June 2022.
The two-year-old boy who died was determined to have contracted Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) and developed a rare kidney infection.
The case was picked up by local news at the time, but was only officially confirmed with new details in a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) this week.
The CDC said the animals could have contracted the bacteria from contaminated surfaces and then spread it to attendees who petted them.
A Tennessee farm was the source of an outbreak of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC), which came from two of the goats. The outbreak killed a two-year-old boy and infected 14 other attendees.
Two goats had STEC and had to be euthanized, while the others were removed from the facility. The goat barn was also scheduled to be demolished (file image)
According to the CDC report, an investigation by the Tennessee Department of Health (TDH) revealed that the outbreak was caused by goats on the premises, as well as the spread of the disease among camp attendees.
The farm had been hosting a three-week summer camp for children ages six to ten.
E. coli is a bacterium normally found in the intestines of animals such as cattle, goats, sheep, and deer. While most are harmless, some can cause a host of gastrointestinal symptoms, including stomach cramps, bloody diarrhea, and vomiting.
STEC is most commonly associated with foodborne outbreaks, according to the CDC. Contaminated foods can include ground beef, unpasteurized milk, raw produce, and undisinfected water.
This form of E. coli lives in the gastrointestinal tract of animals, although they do not get sick. Exact numbers vary, but E. coli infections are estimated to cause about 265,000 illnesses and 100 deaths per year.
The investigation found that infected attendees contracted STEC within the first week of camp.
Local media reported that the two-year-old boy caught it from his brother who attended the camp.
Ultimately, 14 attendees became infected, not including the child who passed away.
Young children and older adults are at higher risk for E. coli-related illness, with most of these infections occurring between June and September in the US, according to the Mayo Clinic, though it’s not clear why.
In rare cases, patients can develop a type of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS).
This is a condition in which there is abnormal destruction of blood platelets and red blood cells.
According to the Mayo Clinic, damaged blood cells can clog the kidney’s filtering system, leading to life-threatening kidney failure.
Local media outlet KKTV reported that the boy who died had HUS.
E. coli illness is usually treated with rest and fluids to prevent dehydration. There are no treatments specifically developed for the infection.
The two goats that tested positive for STEC were euthanized, while the rest of the herd was removed from the property.
The farm owners voluntarily closed the camp and the goat barn is scheduled for demolition.
The CDC said it’s possible the goats ingested STEC from contaminated surfaces and the children became infected after repeatedly touching their faces and not washing their hands.
The agency recommended health officials educate these groups about the health risks farmed animals could pose to vulnerable groups like children.
Additionally, the CDC suggested that facilities like this one should also promote hand washing before and after contact with animals.