Epidemiology and Infection

Escherichia coli O157 infection associated with a petting zoo

A. E.  HEUVELINK  a1 c1 , C.  VAN HEERWAARDEN  a1 , J. T. M.  ZWARTKRUIS-NAHUIS  a1 , R.  VAN OOSTEROM  a2 , K.  EDINK  a3 , Y. T. H. P.  VAN DUYNHOVEN  a4 and E.  DE BOER  a1
a1 Inspectorate for Health Protection and Veterinary Public Health, PO Box 202, 7200 AE, Zutphen, The Netherlands
a2 Inspectorate for Health Protection and Veterinary Public Health, Hoogte Kadijk 401, 1018 BK Amsterdam, The Netherlands
a3 Municipal Health Service Gooi en Vechtstreek, PO Box 251, 1400 AG Bussum, The Netherlands
a4 National Institute of Public Health and the Environment, Bilthoven, The Netherlands


A young child was admitted to hospital with haemolytic-uraemic syndrome caused by infection with a Shiga toxin 2-producing strain of Escherichia coli (STEC) O157. Five days before he became ill, the child had visited a small petting zoo. STEC O157 strains were isolated from faecal samples from goats and sheep housed on the farm. The human and the animal isolates were indistinguishable by molecular subtyping. The petting zoo voluntarily closed temporarily to prevent further cases of infection. Two out of 11 other, randomly selected petting zoos (including one deer park) visited subsequently, tested positive. Furthermore, during the study period there was one more notification of STEC O157 infection possibly linked with a farm visit. Although STEC O157 was indeed found in the petting zoo associated with this patient, transmission through animal contact could not be confirmed because the human isolate was not available for subtyping. The case study and the results of the other on-farm investigations highlight the risk of acquiring severe zoonotic infections during visits to petting zoos.

(Accepted April 2 2002)

c1 Author for correspondence.