While state Health Department scientists were still trying to definitively link the bacteria found in an unchlorinated well at the fairgrounds with the strain suspected of threatening the lives of more than a dozen people and killing two, officials were already thinking of prevention.
"By next year, you might be able to go to the fairgrounds of the state of New York and enjoy yourself, and not worry too much," said state Health Commissioner Dr. Antonia Novello on Friday.
|Petri dish holds the type of E. coli bacteria believed to have made visitors to the Washington County Fair ill on Sept. 8.|
Of the 61 fairgrounds in the state, nine have some self-contained water supply wells, where the water is not chlorinated, she said. Treatment with chlorine kills E. coli and other water-borne bacteria.
Authorities tested wells extensively at the Madison County Fair and determined that the event could go on as planned Sept. 17-19, Novello said.
It is likely the Legislature and Health Department will decree by next year's round of county fairs across the state that all such water sources for public consumption be treated with bacteria-killing chemicals.
There may also be prohibitions about where wells can be dug relative to barns and other sites where animal wastes could leach into the water supplies.
The 20-foot-deep No. 6 well at the Washington County Fairgrounds where E. coli was found was sunk two years ago 83 feet away from the edge of a barn where cows on exhibit at the fair are housed. It was not chlorinated.
Samples were taken of the manure in the barn near well No. 6 in hopes of isolating the cow or cows carrying the fatal E. coli strain.
"You need one cow of 100 to be sick (with E. coli) to cause this," Novello said.
While New York faces the biggest E. coli outbreak in state history, there are now reports that more than 100 people in Illinois are suffering similar effects. At least seven were hospitalized after an outbreak of E. coli bacteria.
The outbreak has been traced to a party in a cow pasture near Petersburg on Sept. 4th. It was attended by 1,800 people. Officials were still trying to reach all of those people, said Health Department spokesman Thomas Schafer.
The crush of people with the potentially deadly disease or with symptoms that might be from the disease now numbr more than 600.
This deadly strain of E. coli bacterium attacks and damages the kidneys. The worst outbreak of the disease was in 1993 when four children died and 700 others became ill after eating undercooked hamburgers at Jack-in-the-Box restaurants.
"You can't protect yourself totally, but there are common sense things you can do like demanding well-cooked hamburger. That will decrease your chance of getting one of these serious infections," says Dr. Jonathan Jacobs, an infectious disease specialist. However, when the source of the infection is water, there is nothing you can do.