A three-year old Canterbury girl is recovering in hospital after contracting a life-threatening disease while feeding a baby lamb.

The girl contracted a potentially lethal strain of gastro infection e-coli from unpasteurised milk in a bottle she was feeding to the lamb.

The Verocytotoxin producing Escherichia coli (VTEC) bacteria from the unpasteurised milk caused the girl to have significant kidney failure, resulting in intensive medical care.

She is now "recovering well" at Auckland's Starship Hospital where she is expected to stay for the next few days.


"Touching farm animals can be lethal," said Dr Alistair Humphrey, Canterbury Medical Officer of Health.

"It is not clear in this case whether the child contracted VTEC E. coli as a result of drinking unpasteurised milk, or by simply touching the lamb. Fortunately, in this case the little girl is recovering."

Dr Humphrey said it was not uncommon for children to contract VTEC in spring and Community and Public Health were investigating two more possible cases.

"Spring is the time of year when stomach bugs are unfortunately most prevalent in Canterbury. Spring is a busy time on farms and in meat works and people are in close contact with animals. Often this includes workers or visitors who don't usually deal with animals.

"Children are most at risk as they are more difficult to get into the habit of washing their hands after feeding farm animals and need to be reminded to wash their hands regularly."

Dr Humphrey says to prevent the spread of VTEC and other infections it is important people only drink pasteurised milk and do not put their hands in their mouth after feeding or touching farm animals.

"This requires parents to be very vigilant when young children are around farm animals," he said.

The most important safety precautions to prevent infections on the farm are not to drink raw milk, thorough hand washing after contact with animals and animal faeces and after going to the toilet, and ensuring water supplies are protected from contamination.

The illness usually begins with diarrhoea, which may contain blood after 2-3 days. Anyone with diarrhoea should consult their General Practice team.