A man from the town of Poland says his 20-month-old son died of an illness caused by E. coli bacteria and that the child may have come in contact with it while visiting a petting zoo at the Oxford County Fair in mid-September.

The toddler is believed to be one of two young children who visited the fair’s petting zoo around the same time and were hospitalized with symptoms of E. coli. The father made the announcement on Facebook, saying he was doing so to warn other parents about the dangers of letting small children pet farm animals.

State health officials have confirmed they are investigating two E. coli cases, but they have not confirmed that anyone has died or named either of the people affected.

However, Victor Herschaft of Auburn posted a message on his Facebook page Tuesday asking that friends and family share the message about his son, Myles, who was at Maine Medical Center undergoing treatment for E. coli.

A nursing supervisor said Myles was in fair condition Tuesday night.

“This (E. coli) is what Myles contracted and I hope no one else is sick or gets sick. If your child has symptoms of an illness please don’t take it lightly and please get your children checked out,” Herschaft wrote. “Myles is still battling this HUS (hemolytic uremic syndrome).”

Herschaft said his son and the other boy went to the same petting zoo around the same time. They were admitted to the hospital within 6 hours of each other, he said.

“Myles has a long road ahead of him, but he is a fighter and the strongest person I know,” Herschaft wrote on Facebook.

John Martins, spokesman for the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, confirmed Tuesday that two children from Androscoggin County were hospitalized with symptoms associated with E. coli.

“The Maine CDC has been investigating for any common links to the cases, and that effort continues,” Martins said in an email. “Maine CDC is working with the state veterinarian and the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry to investigate the fact that each child attended the Oxford Fair and visited the animal barns and petting zoo.”

Martins said laboratory tests done Tuesday at the Health and Environmental Testing Lab in Augusta showed the presence of “Shiga toxins” associated with E. coli. He said the presence of Shiga toxins in the children’s blood means they had E. coli at some time.

Martins said some strains of E. coli cause dysentery by making a Shiga toxin. The bacteria that make these toxins are called “Shiga toxin producing” E. coli, or STEC.

There are many types of E. coli, most of them harmless, but some cause symptoms that can lead to death. The infection can be contracted through contact with human or animal feces.

State health officials say there is only one way of preventing the spread of E. coli after touching farm animals: washing hands throughly with soap and water or using some type of hand sanitizer.

“What we do not know is what type of E. coli it is,” Martins said in the email. “A more extensive test, which involves growing the bacteria, is being conducted, but it will take several days (to get the results).”

BACTERIA TOXIN ATTACKED BRAIN

Jon Guay, the father from Poland, wrote in a Facebook post Tuesday that his son, Colton, died of hemolytic uremic syndrome a week after visiting the fair. The boy, who went to the fair on Sept. 17 and Sept. 19, was treated at Maine Medical Center in Portland, Guay said.

“It is believed that he contracted it through simple interaction with farm animals at a local fair (based on other similar cases). It began with severe diarrhea and ended with massive brain seizures that ultimately took his life,” Guay wrote on his Facebook page.

Attempts to reach Guay, who is a deputy with the Androscoggin County Sheriff’s Office, were unsuccessful Tuesday night.

Guay told the Lewiston Sun Journal that he and his wife, Beth, want to make other parents aware of the risks involved with letting small children interact with farm animals.

“What started out as a joyous occasion in learning that our next baby due in February was going to be a girl, soon turned to fear and concern as Colton was admitted to the hospital for severe diarrhea. My son Colton died a week later of HUS (hemolytic uremic syndrome), which is caused by a bacteria that releases a toxin that attacks the kidneys and other organs. In this case, the brain.

“Beth and I were with him almost every moment in the hospital and are happy we got to hold him and rock him to sleep,” Guay wrote. “I have learned that there is no pain worse than losing the life of your child.”

Dr. Michele Walsh, the state veterinarian, said she and her staff visit every one of the state’s 26 agricultural fairs and examine livestock for any signs of transmittable diseases. She said an animal carrying E. coli bacteria does not typically display any symptoms because the bacteria live in an animal’s gut.

SIGNS POSTED NEAR PETTING ZOOS

The Oxford County Fair ended Sept. 19. The state has no plans to test the animals that were in the fair’s petting zoo. Walsh said the petting zoo included sheep, goats, poultry, llamas, pigs and rabbits.

She said her office emphasizes prevention. Posters and signs are displayed near livestock areas and petting zoos, urging people to wash or sanitize their hands after touching animals.

“When I go to the fairs, I walk from barn to barn to make sure the hand sanitizer dispensers are full,” she said.

Walsh said officials for the Fryeburg Fair, which opened Sunday, took the unusual step of posting a staff member at the exit of the petting zoo to remind parents that children should wash their hands after touching animals.

She said it’s unlikely that the state will be able to determine how the children contracted E. coli. In fact, she said, the state isn’t 100 percent certain that the children got the disease at the Oxford County Fair, only that the fair was a “common point of connection.”

Jim Trundy, vice president of the Oxford County Fair, said Tuesday evening that “we are as careful as we can be.”

Trundy said signs urging people to sanitize their hands were posted near the petting zoo.

“It is so tragic. As a parent and a grandparent, I can’t imagine what the boy’s family must be going through,” he said.