Minnesota petting zoo under investigation after child death

The Minnesota Department of Health is investigating how two children came down with a toxin-producing bacteria after one little girl died and her brother fights for his life.

Out of an abundance of caution, officials asked the petting zoo to pull their farm animals from display. But, the investigation is still ongoing.

Just days after Kallan Maresh started getting sick, she died.

Now, her brother Kade needs constant dialysis after his kidneys failed.

State Public Health Veterinarian Joni Scheftel said the Department of Health is investigating how the children contracted the bacteria, by asking about what they ate and places they may have visited over the past two weeks.

On the family’s CaringBridge page, the mother wrote that "there are no words to describe the pain we feel."

According to the post, the children contracted a form of E.coli bactera that produces toxins. In some cases, it leads to what's known as Hemolyic Uremic Syndrome or HUS, which causes organs to fail.
“In that syndrome, their blood cells are destroyed, and also the kidneys stop functioning,” Scheftel said. “And so it's very serious…there are long hospitalizations and sometimes death.”

Scheftel said the Department of Health is investigating how the children contracted the bacteria, including determining whether it came from a petting zoo they visited earlier this month.

“Normal, healthy well-cared for animals can carry germs that can make people sick, and you can't tell by looking at animals, which one may be shedding a germ and which one isn't,” Scheftel said.

An employee at the A maze'n Farmyard near Eden Valley, Minnesota, confirmed they were contacted by the department, but referred all other comment to the state agency.

"They’ve been very cooperative, very helpful, but again the investigation is ongoing and we’re investigating multiple sources, not just the petting zoo," Scheftel said.

Scheftel advises people to take precautions when visiting petting zoos or other places where you can come into close contact with animals.

“It's really important to wash your hands immediately after visiting the animals. The second thing is avoiding hand to mouth contact, so that means not eating or drinking around the animals, that means removing pacifiers or bottles, while you're visiting the animals,” she said.

While that investigation continues, the Maresh family's focus is on Kade's recovery. The community has responded with more than $40,000 in donations pouring in within two days. 

The tests should be back in a week or so, and there are no laws regulating what are known as agritourism venues like petting zoos.