Confirmed Canadian E. coli Cases UpAug 7, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP Yesterday we reported on yet another E. coli outbreak emerging in Canada. Now, the number of confirmed cases of E. coli infection among people who ate at the University of Guelph late last month has reached seven, with six hospitalizations. The health unit there is pending test results for a number of people—at least over one dozen—with possible infections. Al those confirmed infected with E. coli ate at the University of Guelph campus, but not all at the same location. The E. coli contamination seems to have occurred somewhere on or near July 23 in a kitchen that prepares and distributes food to a variety of university eateries.
"We have no evidence, to date, that there was continued contamination," said Dr. Nicola Mercer, acting medical officer of health for Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health. "We continue to look at all possible causes of this outbreak. But we believe that whatever was there is gone." Mercer said the health unit has not yet ruled out a food brought into the kitchen around the time of the contamination.
Strain O157:H7 of Escherichia coli is 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. In Canada, strain O157:H7 killed seven people and sickened 2,300 in Walkerton, Ontario in a tainted-water scandal.
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.