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Posted in Our Blog on August 8, 2023
Hobbledown, an Adventure Farm Park located near Epson in Surrey temporarily closed on July 27, 2023, for investigation after 3 children contracted a serious bacterial infection. The common link? Escherichia coli and Hobbledown.
Both the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) and the Epson & Ewell Borough Council are actively investigating the facility and performing testing at the site. The goal of the investigation is to determine the source as well as to help prevent future cases.
“We are investigating potential sources of these infections and precautionary public health measures are being put in place to help prevent further cases,” says Trish Mannes, regional deputy director for UKHSA South East.
In an effort to reach those who were potentially exposed, an email was sent to those that visited the park. The email states: “Please be assured we take all possible precautions to ensure the safety of our guests on site and any interaction with animals.”
It goes on to say that, “this is an unusual and, thankfully, rare event, and if you have not exhibited any symptoms there is nothing to worry about.” The email ends with the hope that they can reopen “very soon.”
Additionally, Hobbledown owner, Nick de Candole issued a public statement on their website in response to the outbreak.
We have been informed by health authorities of a very small number of cases of an E. coli infection in individuals who recently visited the Park.
After learning of this we immediately and voluntarily closed the Park as a precaution.
We are in close contact with Epsom & Ewell District Council Environmental Health team and also the UK Health Security Agency and co-operating fully with both on their respective investigations.
I have written to everyone who visited between 11 and 27 July to inform them of the situation and included with this a letter from the UKHSA with further information and guidance.
We are offering those who have booked to visit while we’re closed options to reschedule or a full refund, plus 50% off next visit.
I can assure everyone that the wellbeing of visitors to Hobbledown is our absolute priority and we do everything in our power to keep guests safe.
We look forward to welcoming everyone back soon.
The park is still closed as of August 3, 2023.
Escherichia coli, often abbreviated as E. coli. Is a bacteria commonly found in the environment, foods, and even in the intestines of animals and people. Not all strains of the bacteria are harmful. In fact, some make up the normal flora of your digestive system. But not all.
Certain strains of E. coli can make you sick. Really sick!
Most pathogenic (harmful) strains present with typical diarrheal and digestive upset symptoms, while others are more serious resulting in urinary tract infections, respiratory illness, pneumonia, and other potentially long term or life-threatening illnesses.
Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) is a category of E. coli most associated with illness. Symptoms can vary from person to person and in severity depending on certain risk factors and type of infection. Common symptoms include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea (often bloody), and vomiting. Some people may experience a low-grade fever (less than 101 °F).
Symptoms often begin about 3 or 4 days after consuming contaminated food or drink, though in some cases it could begin as early as 1 day post exposure to 10 days post exposure. Symptoms often resolve within 5 to 7 days.
The infection becomes more complicated when it leaves the digestive system and enters other areas of the body. One particular complication is known as Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome.
Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS) is a type of kidney failure associated with STEC infections. About 5 to 10% of people diagnosed with STEC infection will develop this potentially life-threatening complication.
HUS symptoms often appear around 7 days after becoming sick, often just as diarrheal symptoms begin to improve. Common signs of HUS include decreased urination, paleness of cheeks and inside of lower eyelids, and feeling tired.
Most normally healthy people recover from E. coli or STEC infection without medical intervention. In some cases, medical treatment is necessary. Treatment may entail actions such as fluids to combat dehydration to treatment to prevent kidney failure.
Contact your health care provider if you have:
People with HUS must be hospitalized because their kidneys may stop working or potentially develop other serious health complications. Most people with HUS can recover completely within a few weeks; however, some suffer permanent or even die.
Hobbledown Adventure Park has several animal exhibits including rabbits and goats where children may have close contact. Many animals show no outwards signs of infection with STEC but can still pass on the pathogenic bacteria to the unsuspecting patron.
The best way to prevent the spread of E. coli infection is good hygiene. “Whilst STEC is very infectious, the most effective way to prevent the spread of the illness is by following good hygiene such as washing hands thoroughly, particularly after using the toilet, handling raw meat, before meals, and after contact with animals,” advises UKHSA South East regional deputy director Mannes.
“Alcohol gel” is not a sufficient alternative to hand washing. If that is all that is available, use it. But wash your hands as soon as possible and avoid eating, drinking, or touching your mouth or face.
The UKHSA is advising anyone who has developed E. coli symptoms since attending the farm to contact NHS 111.
To keep prevention in the forefront of visitors and parent’s minds, signage should be placed throughout the park and handwashing stations available in food areas and animal contact areas.
Details on whether these prevention activities are available is unclear. If not, this would be a great mitigating factor to consider so that outbreak events in the future may be prevented.
No date has been set for reopening the farm at this stage, according to the UKHSA. The outbreak event is only at the Epson, Surrey location. The other location in Hounslow, London is not impacted.