Health officials have warned that thousands of young children and families could be at risk of contracting E. coli after visiting a popular children's farm.
Twelve children, all aged between 18 months and 10, are being treated for the O157 strain of bacteria after visiting Godstone Farm in Surrey. Yesterday, eight of the affected children were in a stable condition.
But the Health Protection Agency said more children could fall victim to the bug following the long incubation period and the possibility of person-to-person contact that increased the likelihood of infection among children and families.
Thirty-six cases have been reported so far.
There was concern yesterday that it had taken weeks to close the farm after the outbreak last month.
It is believed that the first case of 0157 bacteria was reported on August 27 which resulted in increased signage across the farm urging visitors to wash their hands.
But it was not until September 5 — nine days after the first case — when visitor contact with animals was stopped as part of measures designed to contain the outbreak.
Dr Angela Iverson, director of Surrey and Sussex Health Protection Agency said: “We have isolated cases of 0157 reported from time-to-time and if we shut every petting farm on a single case, we'd be closing down a lot farms regularly.”
The source of the outbreak is not confirmed, but health officials believe it could have been triggered through contact with infected animals that occurs when faeces containing the bacteria gets on to a person's hands, often through petting an animal, and then transmitted to the mouth.
Yesterday, Richard Oatway, manager of Godstone Farm, defended the health and safety measures saying the farm had “done enough” to encourage children to wash their hands after touching the animals.