updated 4/8/2005 5:34:24 PM ET 2005-04-08T21:34:24

An outbreak of E. coli bacteria in Florida that has caused kidney disease in several people has been definitively linked to animals from petting zoos at three fairs, state officials said Friday.

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Epidemiologists matched DNA from E. coli bacteria in six animals — two goats, two sheep and two cows — to the DNA in the bacteria contracted by the victims. The six animals were all from the same company, Ag-Venture Farm Shows.

Twenty-six people have been confirmed stricken with the E. coli infection, including 23 children, after contracting the bacteria at the fairs. Eight of them remained hospitalized this week.

No one has died from the disease.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson said Ag-Venture had cooperated fully with the investigation and was voluntarily quarantining the animals permanently. Ag-Venture’s phone was constantly busy Friday and it has not returned numerous calls made previously seeking comment.

E. coli being transmitted by direct contact with farm animals has only been documented a few times, all since 1996. It is usually linked to bad food.

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