A PROBE has been launched after four children were hospitalised after contracting E. coli during a lamb feeding event at an East Lancashire farm attraction.
Contact with animals at Huntley’s Country Store in Samlesbury has been susp-ended following 11 cases of E.coli 0157 being confirmed by Public Health England.
The organisation and environ- mental health officers from across Lancashire together with officials from the Animal Health and Veterinary laboratories Agency are carrying out the investigation after visits to a lambing event which ran between March 29 and April 24.
One child has been discharged from hospital and is recovering at home while three others remain in hospital.
Public Health England, which made the announcement yesterday, said there was ‘no longer’ any risk to the public.
Huntley’s managing director Harry Wilson said all at the attraction were distraught that the outbreak had happened and wished the children a speedy and full recovery.
The investigation comes two years after a petting farm in Bacup was closed down because of an E. coli risk.
Animal Quackers in Bacup became the first such farm in the UK to be shut on public health grounds. It reopened shortly after with a clean bill of health.
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A spokesman for Public Health England said: “To date we are aware of 11 laboratory confirmed cases of ‘E. coli O157’.
“Four people have been hospitalised with complications arising from the infection - one of whom has now left hospital and is recovering at home.
“All cases had visited a lamb feeding event at Huntley’s Country Store, near Salmesbury over recent weeks.
“There is no longer any risk to the public as all contact between animals and the public at the premises has now ceased.
Dr Ken Lamden, consultant in health protection from the Cumbria and Lancashire’s PHE Centre said: “Investigations are still on-going and all public health measures have been put in place.
“The owners are co-operating fully and we are working closely with them and with colleagues across health and local authorities.
“Symptoms of ‘E. coli O157’ include bloody diarrhoea, which can be serious, or milder forms of the infection which are usually self-limiting and clear within seven days.
“Anyone who visited the lambing event between March 29 and April 24 and who is unwell with diarrhoea, bloody diarrhoea or passing less urine than usual should seek medical advice or contact NHS 111.”
Dr Lamden added that people should take care if they were planning to visit a petting farm over the Bank Holiday weekend.
He said: “The best protection against ‘E. coli O157’ and most infections is thorough hand-washing. This is particularly important after contact with animals, after going to the toilet, after handling raw meat products and always before eating.
“This incident is an important reminder for parents to follow strict hand washing with their families when visiting petting farms or handling animals. Although many parents may carry alcohol gels with them, this should be an addition to hand washing with soap and water and not a substitute.
“Ahead of the May Bank Holiday weekend, we urge families to enjoy their farm visits safely by ensuring good hand hygiene after touching farm animals or their surroundings.
“Outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness associated with contact with farm animals, peak in the spring and summer as this coincides with schools holidays when visits to petting farms tend to be more popular, although outbreaks can occur at other times.
“We wouldn’t wish to discourage farm visits, but people need to remember that a range of infections can be passed on through contact with animals unless care is taken to avoid them.”
Mr Wilson said: “First and foremost can I say all our thoughts at this moment in time centre around the affected children and we wish them a speedy and full recovery.
“Huntley’s management is distraught that this outbreak took place during our extremely popular ‘Lambing Live’ event.
“Witnessing the birth of baby lambs is a special and rare moment for both children and adults from non farming backgrounds.
“It is therefore unfortunate that this outbreak has happened at such a magical event which ought to leave children with good lifelong memories.”