Canada E. coli Still GrowingNov 5, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP
The potentially dangerous food poisoning infection E. coli appears to be sweeping across areas of Canada with the number of suspected cases linked to an outbreak in Burlington, Ontario increasing yesterday. A restaurant near Niagara is readying to reopen today following its closure over a similar outbreak last month.
Yesterday, the Halton Region Health Department said officials were investigating 43 suspected E. coli cases. Just Monday, the figure was at 28. The outbreak appears to have originated from the Johnathan's Family Restaurant in Burlington. To date, three of the 48 cases are confirmed to be E. coli strain O157:H7. Also, the “molecular fingerprint” from the Burlington outbreak matches those in Niagara, in which 47 suspected cases led to the closure of two restaurants. Twelve of the 47 suspected cases there have since been confirmed. Both M.T. Bellies restaurant in Welland, Ontario and the Little Red Rooster restaurant in Niagara-on-the-Lake have been linked to 21 cases each of suspected E. coli infection. The remaining five suspected cases have not yet been linked to any food establishment.
Because the Niagara Region Public Health announced yesterday that Little Red Rooster had "satisfied all the criteria" for reopening, its owners announced the restaurant would reopen today.
Dr. Robin Williams, medical officer for Niagara health authority, said the strain of E. coli O157:H7 was very rare and given that three restaurants in two regions were infected with the same strain, common food distributors are being investigated to help locate the infection’s source. Williams noted that, while the investigation is in early stages, it seems that salad ingredients are a potential culprit.
A third E. coli outbreak is also ongoing in North Bay, Ontario. In that outbreak, there are 246 suspected cases of E. coli infection with 49 confirmed cases. That outbreak closed a Harvey's fast-food restaurant on October 12 and cases have spanned Quebec, British Columbia and 10 other districts of Ontario. That outbreak has not yet been linked to the other ongoing outbreaks and no contamination source has been identified in any of the cases. The investigations continue.
E. coli are a group of bacteria found in animal intestines and feces and have been known to cause contaminations in meat, produce, and water supplies. While some E. coli strains are necessary for digestion; some are harmful, deadly, and toxin-producing and part of a group of E. coli called Verocytotoxigenic E. coli, or VTECs, also known as Shiga-producing E. coli. Of particular concern is the virulent, sometimes deadly E. coli O157:H7 strain that is part of this group and that is generally found to be the culprit in E. coli-related food-borne illness outbreak. E. coli may cause fatal blood poisoning, cystitis, deadly septicemia, and death. In the US, E. coli is the leading cause of food-borne illness, sickening about 73,000 and killing 61; last year, over 22 million pounds of beef and vegetables were recalled due to E. coli outbreaks.