E. coli outbreak hits 106; toddler victim laid to rest - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina

E. coli outbreak hits 106; toddler victim laid to rest

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) -

The number of E. coli cases in the area rose to 106 Friday afternoon, according to the NC Department of Health and Human Services.

The grieving parents of the 2-year-old Gaston County toddler stricken by E. coli laid him to rest Wednesday afternoon in Gaston County.

The parents of the toddler who doctors say died from E. coli contracted at a local fair, tell WBTV they are not blaming anyone for their son's death.

Gage Lefevers, 2, died last week after officials say he contracted the deadly bacteria at the Cleveland County Fair.

"It's a freak accident. We're not going waste energy and time on being angry," said Josh Lefevers, Gage's father.

Lefevers and his wife, Jessica, greeted hundreds of people Tuesday night for Gage's visitation in Gastonia.

"If we're going to spend all day talking about who to blame and stuff, we're not going to be taking care of our daughter and taking care of ourselves," said Jessica Lefevers.

Josh and Jessica Lefevers say Gage was a loving son, who loved playing with his older sister.

"He was awesome. I could have the worst day in the world and as soon as I came home, he'd make me laugh, no matter what," Josh Lefevers said.

Meanwhile, state health officials say the number of E. coli cases associated with the Cleveland County Fair continues to rise across the state and even across the state line. Health officials said Wednesday afternoon the total had risen to 61, including Lefevers.

By 2 p.m. Thursday, that number had risen to 81, officials said. 

This outbreak follows one at the state fair in Raleigh last year where 25 people were sickened there.

The outbreak has now spread from Cleveland Co. into Catawba, Gaston, Lincoln, Mecklenburg and Union counties in North Carolina. York and Cherokee counties in South Carolina also have three confirmed case of E. coli.

Dorothea Wyant, Cleveland County's Health Director, says "it's frustrating and it's confusing because you want answers and you want quick answers so can stop it and tell what it is".

Wyant says they've interviewed about dozens of people trying to pinpoint the source of the contamination. She says according to the latest analysis they don't think food is the cause.

Wyant says "everyone we've interviewed - and has gotten a history of food they've eaten - had folks with them that ate the same thing and did not get sick".

Health officials said as of Tuesday afternoon - while they're not 100% certain - the analysis shows the source was probably the petting zoo. Wyant says state health officials told her "more people got sick who went to the petting zoo". She says the bacteria can be carried from place to place which would explain why some who didn't go the petting zoo became ill.

Health officials say one of the 81 people with the bacteria did not attend the Cleveland County Fair. A 20-month old baby went to the fair and contracted E. coli. While taking care of her sick baby, the child's mother became sick. The mother did not go to the fair.

Even Sheriff Alan Norman's teenage son contracted E. coli while working with the animals at the fair.

Since last year's outbreak State fair organizers invested 2-hundred thousand dollars in improvements to try and keep people from getting sick.

Many include keeping people away from animals, but not all of them. 

Kevin White says he always tries to make it out. His family enjoys the furry faces and this makes 12 straight years that he and his family have made a day of it at the state fair.

There are some things that are quite noticeable, such as the barriers between fair goers and livestock.

More room between food vendors and animal exhibits. Better signage and lighting at hand washing stations. 

Brian Long said "you get a lot of people together there's the potential for germs to be exchanged. You throw animals into that mix there's also the potential for germs to be transmitted" 

Long says that the first thing you should do when you leave that exhibit is wash your hands 

More than two dozen people got sick at the state fair last year.

Little Hunter Tallent from Shelby was one of them.

He spent more than two weeks in the hospital when e coli bacteria shut down his kidneys.

Hunter's mom Lindsay Tallent says "It's really sad that we've had to come this far, that we can't play with the animals anymore, but in the long run it is a very good thing to help keep away any spread of diseases or keep any families from having to deal with what we've dealt with.

It's these types of improvements that local fairs may soon invest in.

Six kids were hospitalized after an E. coli outbreak this past week and the common link is they all attended the Cleveland County fair.

Those symptoms include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and a low-grade fever. 

If you're sick and went to the Cleveland County fair health officials say you should let your doctor know immediately.

Copyright 2012 WBTV. All rights reserved

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