The drive to identify the origin of an outbreak of E.coli that has left three children seriously ill has begun at a Surrey petting zoo.
A total of 36 cases of infection have now been confirmed since the first incident was reported, with 12 children among those being treated.
Dr Graham Bickler, regional director for the Health Protection Agency in the South East, said: "Health colleagues have taken samples from animal faeces and we are now waiting to see what they find." Results are expected in the coming days.
Parents of children infected by the bacteria have expressed serious concern that they were not informed of the outbreak until two weeks after the first case was reported, during which time thousands of people may have passed through the gates of the farm.
The zoo, which attracts up to 2,000 people a day at peak times, was only closed on Saturday.
Copyright © Press Association 2009
Clive Garner from law firm Irwin Mitchell’s International Travel Litigation Team said: “We are very concerned by reports regarding an outbreak of E.coli 0157 linked to Godstone Farm, near Redhill in Surrey. To date 36 people have fallen ill, including 12 children who remain in hospital, 3 of whom are seriously ill.
“E.coli is a type of bacteria that lives in the intestines of humans and animals. While many strains of E.coli are harmless, the 0157 strain can cause severe and even life threatening illness. Irwin Mitchell has acted for clients who have suffered serious complications as a result of E.coli 0157 infection, including renal failure leading to permanent kidney damage. Brain damage or even death can also occur in the worst cases.
“We understand that the Surrey and Sussex division of the Health Protection Agency (HPA) is investigating the outbreak, after the first case of E.coli 0157 linked to a visit to the farm was reported to them on 27 August. At a site visit on 3 September by Environmental Health officers and the HPA team, the farm was advised to cease contact between visitors and high risk farm animals. However, it appears that this was not sufficient to contain the outbreak and on 12 September the farm was closed until the investigation was completed.
“Some visitors to the farm, which has up to 2,000 people coming through its doors each day during the summer, have said that there were not enough warnings about the importance of washing hands after petting the animals. Criticism has also been levelled at the HPA for allowing the farm to remain open even after the link with cases of E.coli 0157 had been established.
“The families involved in this outbreak will want to know the source of the contamination and why more was not done at an earlier stage to prevent visitors becoming infected. Once it became clear that there was a risk of contamination, access to the farm should have been restricted until such time as it was safe for visitors to return.”