LEWISTON, Maine — A local family is mourning the loss of their 20-month-old son after they say he developed hemolytic uremic syndrome after being exposed to E. coli bacteria while petting farm animals at the Oxford County Fair in September, the Sun Journal reports.

“It began with severe diarrhea and ended with massive brain seizures that ultimately took his life,” Jon Guay wrote in a Facebook post to family and friends.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention confirms that two children from Androscoggin County were hospitalized with E. coli symptoms after visiting the Oxford County Fair. The agency did not release either child’s name or information about their conditions.

The Maine CDC says they have been investigating for any common links to the cases. They are 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.

Humans and animals carry the E. coli bacteria in the intestines. While many strains are harmless, infection can be transmitted through contact with farm animals or their environment, and through contaminated food and water.

Some strains produce dangerous toxins. Laboratory tests conducted on Tuesday determined the presence of shiga toxins associated with E. coli, according to Maine CDC.

Young children and the elderly are more likely than others to develop severe illness and hemolytic uremic syndrome, which affects 5 to 10 percent of those diagnosed with E. coli-produced shiga toxin, according to the U.S. CDC.

Symptoms of the syndrome include decreased frequency of urination, fatigue and the loss of pink color in the cheeks and inside the lower eyelids. While most people with the syndrome recover within a few weeks, some suffer permanent damage or die.

The Maine CDC says as the fair season winds down, it’s important that those who are exposed to animals and their environment wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water. This offers the best protection against E. coli. If soap and water are not available, hand sanitizer can be used.

Lewiston Sun Journal writer Scott Thistle and BDN writer Jackie Farwell contributed to this report.