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PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Zoo on Saturday announced that as a precautionary measure, it has temporarily closed its Children's Zoo and African farmyard after receiving notification from the Philadelphia Department of Public Health that two children tested positive for E. coli 0157:H7 in early August. Both children have since recovered fully.
Although the extensive precautions the zoo takes to ensure the health of its animals make it unlikely that the zoo was the source of the infection, both children had visited the zoo before becoming ill. According to the Health Department, no other cases suggesting a connection have been reported since these two cases.
"More than a million visitors come to the zoo every year, and their safety is our top priority," said zoo Chief Operating Officer Joseph Moore. "We take extensive preventive measures to make sure our animals are healthy -- making it unlikely that the zoo was the source of this infection. But until we receive more information about how these children got sick, we want to continue to take every precaution to ensure our guests enjoy the zoo safely."
The zoo received notification from the Health Department yesterday afternoon after 5 p.m., when the zoo closes. The Children's Zoo and African farmyard will remain closed until the Health Department and the zoo complete a thorough investigation. The rest of the zoo remains open.
All new zoo animals are quarantined upon arrival for at least 30 days, all mammals are tested for E. coli 0157:H7 during quarantine, and all animals in public-contact areas are tested twice a year for E. coli 0157:H7. None of these tests have ever been positive for E. coli 0157:H7. The Zoo has hand-washing stations, signs directing visitors to wash their hands after petting animals, and staff supervision in areas where visitors come into contact with animals.
The Philadelphia area experiences cases of E. coli 0157:H7 every year. According to the Centers for Disease Control's web site, an estimated 73,000 cases of E. coli infection occur in the United States each year. Most cases are not related to animal contact, but instead are related to tainted food.
The Health Department intends to further test the E coli cultures from the two infected children to try to determine whether the cases are linked. The Philadelphia Zoo will immediately begin retesting all animals in the Children's Zoo and African farmyard for E. coli 0157:H7.
Source: The Philadelphia Zoo