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Canadian E. coli Investigation At Nearly 200 Cases

Oct 23, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP Earlier this week we reported on a rapidly increasing E.coli outbreak that is linked to the Harvey’s chain restaurant in the North Parry area of Ontario, Canada.  Now, the figures for those who have fallen ill from lab-confirmed E. coli infections has reached 36, according to the Ontario region’s health authority.  The total number of E. coli cases under investigation is now at 190, an impressive increase from the number of reported cases earlier this week. Those sickened range in age from one-year-old to 90 years old.

"We believe the increase in the number of cases is largely due to people who are still reporting their symptoms and are within the expected time frame of the outbreak," the statement released late Wednesday said.  Included are eight cases in other Ontario health unit districts, as well as one in Quebec.  Most were linked to the North Bay Harvey's restaurant, which has been closed since last Sunday.  Investigators continue to investigate if undercooked beef served at Harvey’s may have been contaminated with E. coli and the Public Health Agency of Canada was examining patients’ stool samples.  Food samples taken from Harveys on the night it closed have tested negative for E. coli.

Earlier this week, Dr. Catherine Whiting, the North Bay health unit's medical officer, said that while more cases are likely to come, "the number of new cases of E. coli O157: H7 is slowing down.”  This does not seem to be the case and North Parry health officials believe that there are likely other cases that span Ontario because many of Harvey's customers traveled on the nearby Trans Canada Highway.  Medical authorities throughout Ontario have begun to investigate potential cases, as well.  

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 and seems to be sweeping North America in recent months with outbreaks popping up in a variety of states in the U.S. as well as in Canada.  E. coli taints meat through improper butchering and processing practices and, once released in the body, produces a type of toxin that has been associated with kidney damage in young children, and can also lead to kidney failure and death.  E. coli may cause fatal blood poisoning, cystitis, and deadly septicemia.  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.

Food borne contaminations are exacerbated with a food path that 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.  Couple this with the overarching problem with infectious diseases, which are now becoming more resistant to bacteria because of antibiotic overuse and abuse.  And now, drug resistant E. coli are being reported world-wide and there is also compelling data that the negative health effects of E. coli can remain for months and years later confirming these illnesses can have long-term, lasting effects that can either linger for months or years or can show up months or years—as late as 10-to-20 years—after the original illness.

A telephone line was set up Wednesday by health officials continuing to appeal for the public's assistance.  Anyone who visited the particular Harvey's restaurant from October 1-12 is asked to call 1-800-563-2808.

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