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Canadian Campus Struck by E. coli

Aug 6, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP The E. coli bacteria seems to be sweeping North America in recent months with outbreaks popping up in a variety of states in the US as well as in Canada.  Now, at least 20 people may have fallen ill after eating E. coli tainted food at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada.  Public officials there have confirmed five E. coli cases and are calling at least another 15 suspect.

"This strain, 0157H7, is particularly nasty," said Dr. Nicola Mercer, acting medical officer of health for the region.  Strain 0157:H7 is more than just nasty; it’s lethal and can cause blood poisoning, cystitis, septicemia, and death.  In the US, E. coli is the leading cause of food-borne illness with about 73,000 people becoming infected and 61 people dying from E. coli each year.  Last year alone, over 22 million pounds of beef and vegetables were recalled due to E. coli outbreaks.

Escherichia coli is a relatively common bacteria found in the human digestive tract and is normally harmless; however, some strains, including those linked to food poisoning, such as O157:H7, are much more serious and, often, deadly.  Worse, this strain is extremely contagious and only a small amount of bacteria can contaminate a large number of people. E. coli taints meat through improper butchering and processing practices and, once released in the body, produces a type of toxin that leads to severe bleeding and diarrhea, has been associated with kidney damage in young children, and can also lead to kidney failure and death.  Symptoms of E. coli infection include stomach cramps and watery diarrhea that may turn bloody within one to three days.  More and more, E. coli is turning up in produce and water.

Yesterday we wrote that news releases nationwide were reporting that six more people fell ill with the deadly E. coli strain 0157:H7 in Massachusetts; five required hospitalization.  Also, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has confirmed 49 E. coli cases in Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, New York, Ohio, and Utah.  The Associated Press reports E. coli cases traced to recalled beef are related to at least 20 other cases nationwide and in Quebec.  The ongoing multi-state E. coli outbreak linked to Nebraska Beef Limited of Omaha involved it recalling 5.3 million pounds of beef.

In the last two years, a variety of food pathogens have killed several people, sickened thousands, and touched nearly every state in the country and Canada.  The problem is difficult to police because the food-surveillance system is outdated, under-funded, and overwhelmed by the emergence of mega-farms, -distribution centers, and -transporters.  Scientists have expressed concern that infections from antibiotic resistant E. coli bacteria are spreading into the greater population and several countries also now report cases of antibiotic-resistant E. coli.  And, now, emerging data confirms the negative health effects of E. coli can remain for months and years; can have long-term, lasting effects; and can appear months or years after the original illness.

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