Canada: E. coli strain sickens seven

Source of Article:

Bacteria can cause kidney failure and even death

Michelle Lang, Calgary Herald

Published: Thursday, January 15, 2009

Public health officials are investigating a virulent strain of E. coli bacteria that has infected five Calgarians and at least two other people since November, saying all the cases appear to be related.

Alberta Health Services physicians confirmed Wednesday they are probing a cluster of seven cases of E. coli 0157: H7, which can lead to kidney failure and death in a small percentage of people.

In addition to the five Calgary cases, health officials are examining possible links with an Edmonton patient and a Saskatchewan patient infected with the bacteria.

"We think we see some patterns here," said Dr. Richard Musto, Calgary medical officer of health for Alberta Health Services. "It's still early, but it looks like there is some . . . connection between these cases."

Two of the people required hospitalization, according to sources, who added the Calgary cases appear linked to three unnamed Vietnamese restaurants.

Musto would not confirm that any of the cases required a hospital stay. He said the patients are now recovering and no new cases have come forward in the past 12 days.

Musto also declined to comment on whether the cases were linked to restaurant meals, noting the source of the infections has not been confirmed.

E. coli 0157, which is best known for killing seven and sickening thousands when the water supply in Walkerton, Ont., became contaminated with the bacteria, has been a problem several times in the city in recent years.

In 2005, an outbreak of the bacteria, linked to marshmallow milkshakes from Peters' Drive-In, sickened 18 people. Two people were hospitalized.

In the summer of 2007, an unexplained spike in the number of

E. coli cases sickened 57 Calgarians, more than twice the usual number of cases in the city for the period.

Several people had to be hospitalized and six developed a potentially life-threatening complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome, which can lead to kidney failure.

An investigation into the cases showed no single source was behind the infections.

Tanya Maksymic, whose daughter Julia became seriously sick with E. coli in 2007, said news of the latest cases is "heart-wrenching."

She said her daughter is now healthy, although she falls ill quite easily.

"I never let my guard down, I'm always taking extra precautions," she said. "You don't live normally after that (experience)."

In the latest cases, the seven people fell ill between Nov. 26 and Jan. 2.

Musto said he does not believe there is an ongoing public health risk from the cluster of cases, noting no new cases have appeared in recent days.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency, which is responsible for investigating E. coli cases if they are related to tainted meat that came from a federally registered slaughterhouse, is aware of the cases, but has not yet launched a probe.

"We are waiting for more information," said Susan Turner, a spokeswoman for the federal agency. "There's no active investigation until we have the facts confirmed."



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