Article published Saturday, July 16, 2005
By ROBIN ERB
The Toledo Zoo’s petting zoo is scheduled to reopen today, less than a month after officials warned they might close it for the summer because a routine animal screening detected an infectious bacteria.
One Lucas County child became infected with campylobacteriosis, the illness caused by the bacteria campylobacter, after visiting the zoo in June, according to an epidemiologist at the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department.
But it was unclear whether the boy picked up the bacteria at the zoo or elsewhere.
Health officials say the organism is extremely common. Once passed to humans, it can cause a fever, diarrhea, and vomiting that typically lasts several days, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“It can be extremely uncomfortable for a few days. Then, for most people, it will be resolved,” Christine Pearson, a CDC spokesman, said.
In rare cases, it is life-threatening among people with “compromised immune systems – usually the very young and the very old,” said Kristopher Weiss, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Health.
Throughout the state, 5,810 cases of campylobacteriosis were reported in a five-year period, ending in 2003. Statistics for 2004 were not immediately available, he said.
The organism was identified among a handful of organisms that sickened about 1,400 visitors to South Bass Island last summer. The source most likely was contaminated groundwater, officials concluded.
Dr. Wynona Shellabarger, the zoo’s interim veterinarian, said the petting zoo’s cows, sheep, pigs, alpacas, miniature donkeys, and other animals have been tested for campylobacter.
“The results are all coming back negative, and the animals are healthy,” Dr. Shellabarger said.
The animals in the petting zoo that are on loan at the zoo for the summer will be tested about once a month, she said.
The petting zoo closed June 24, although a portion reopened a short time later so that visitors could view the animals. Today’s full opening means that children can pet the animals again.
Additionally, the Toledo-Lucas County health department and the zoo have worked together to isolate the bacteria.
Among other precautionary steps, the zoo now sanitizes petting zoo handrails twice daily. Sanitizing wipes and hand-washing stations are provided.
Last year, 56 cases of campylobacteriosis were reported in Lucas County. So far this year, about 30 cases have been reported, said Dawn Thomas, an epidemiologist with the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department.
One child was reported infected after visiting the petting zoo June 12, but washed his hands after the visit. The child, who made a full recovery, also didn’t get ill until about two weeks later, while the incubation period for the disease is typically two to five days, according to Ms. Thomas.
Contact Robin Erb at: