Suspicions of U.S. link in E. coli outbreaks


November 10, 2008

The Hamilton Spectator
(Nov 10, 2008)


Source of Article:

E. coli outbreaks in Halton, Niagara and Waterloo have been linked by DNA tests showing they share the same rare genetic makeup.

Public health officials are also investigating whether E. coli cases at the University of Guelph have the same DNA fingerprint, said Dr. Bob Nosal, medical officer of health for Halton.

Through laboratory testing, investigators were able to pin down the genetic code for E. coli 0157:H7 and were able to match cases in this part of Ontario.

In the United States, the genetic code recently showed up in five cases of the food-borne pathogen in Southern California, South Dakota and New Jersey, Nosal said.

Authorities are scratching their heads over whether they are linked to the ones in southern Ontario, but it is very suspicious, Nosal said.

"When this rare (genetic code) was showing up in the U.S., it was obviously of interest," Nosal said. "This is how complex (the investigation) becomes. In Ontario, the cases are quite close geographically. So when you get something that rare showing up in the U.S., you really wonder -- is it possibly linked?"

The health units have been working with the Ontario Ministry of Health, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

Of the cases linked in Ontario, 13 have been confirmed in the Niagara Region, three in Halton and two in Waterloo. Another 106 cases in Niagara and Halton are being investigated.

While E. coli 0157:H7 is the same strain that sickened hundreds of people in North Bay, genetic testing has found those in southern Ontario and North Bay are not linked.

Area health officials have not been able to determine the origin of the E. coli outbreak, but point to tainted lettuce or some other produce as the source, Nosal said.

Public health investigators don't know whether the E. coli originated at a supplier, distributor or elsewhere, said Dr. Robin Williams, medical officer of health for Niagara.

In Halton, the cases are believed to be linked to Johnathan's Family Restaurant in Burlington.

That eatery will reopen soon, Nosal confirmed. The restaurant staff had to comply with a number of orders, including ensuring possibly tainted food was discarded. The health unit will also conduct increased inspections after the restaurant reopens, Nosal said.



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