Dog show in Lynden moved as investigation into E. coli outbreak continues

A weekend dog show has been moved from the dairy barn at the Northwest Washington fairgrounds as the investigation continues into what caused an E. coli outbreak at last month’s Milk Makers Fest.

Jim Baron, fair manager, said a portion of the Mt. Baker Kennel Club’s event that was scheduled to be held in the barn was relocated to another building at the fairgrounds in Lynden. The Milk Makers Fest was held in the dairy barn.

He said the fair moved the dog show “out of an abundance of caution on our part,” and after talking to the club and public health officials.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been in Whatcom County since Monday to help Whatcom County and state health officials with the investigation.

About 1,325 Whatcom County first-grade students, plus the teachers and parents who accompanied them, from all of the school districts in Whatcom County went to the Milk Makers Fest on April 21-23 at the fairgrounds. The 22nd annual festival was sponsored by Whatcom County Dairy Women.

The Milk Makers Fest introduced young students to farming. It also gave them a chance to pet farm animals, including small horses, sheep, rabbits, chickens and a calf. There was a hay maze and scavenger hunt as well.

Most of those who’ve been ill are first-graders.

People who helped set up and take down the event — on April 20 and April 24 — also were among those who have been sickened. There have been secondary illnesses, too, of people who lived in the same home as someone who attended the event and became ill.

“Everybody is concerned about the health of the children. Everybody wants to know what the source of the illness is,” Baron said.

Dr. Scott Lindquist, the Washington state epidemiologist for communicable diseases, said the move was a precaution while county, state and federal officials determine the source of the outbreak that has hospitalized eight people.

“We’re recommending they not have any more events until we’ve finished our investigation,” Lindquist said, referring to the dairy barn. “They voluntarily did this. I applaud them for it.”

The Mt. Baker Kennel Club show, which starts Saturday, is expected to attract 800 dogs and more than 2,000 people to the fairgrounds. The show will be in various buildings.

There haven’t been any events in the dairy barn since the Milk Makers Fest, Baron said, and the next event that would use the barn is the Northwest Washington Fair, which starts Aug. 17.

So far, 19 people contracted lab-confirmed infections. Eight have been hospitalized and three have developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a life-threatening complication of E. coli illness.

Other cases are still being investigated.

Whatcom County health officials originally estimated as many as 47 people were sickened, but the way cases are defined has been changed so that suspected and probable cases aren’t included.

Investigators with the state, the county and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are examining potential sources of the outbreak, an effort expected to last at least two weeks.