E. coli Spreading Across Canada, Three Restaurants SuspectedOct 29, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP
The E. coli outbreak in Canada's Niagara Region has sickened up to 21 people, with six confirmed cases, and has resulted in two restaurant closures. Over 100 food samples have been taken from Niagara-on-the-Lake's Little Red Rooster restaurant, which was pinpointed as one possible source; two of six confirmed cases reported eating there. The second restaurant—M.T. Bellies in Welland—voluntarily closed its kitchen yesterday; three confirmed cases ate at M.T. Bellies. Both restaurants are located in the same province and are about 24 miles (40 kilometers) apart. Neither restaurant has been officially linked to the growing outbreaks.
Investigators continue to work to locate the E. coli source and to determine if the restaurants are connected to the outbreak, they may share a single food supplier. Health officials warned against jumping to conclusions. “We need to keep an open mind and not focus on one particular food establishment as the source of illness at this stage of the investigation,” said Dr. Doug Sider, the associate medical officer of health in Niagara Region. Dr. Sider also said that preliminary testing is indicating that the two concurrent outbreaks are not related; however, both outbreaks are of the same general strain E. coli O157:H7.
Meanwhile, these outbreaks follow another in North Bay, Ontario that has sickened 229 people, including 44 lab-confirmed cases. In that outbreak, all of the confirmed cases are linked to a single Harvey's restaurant in North Bay; however, those sickened span nine Ontario health regions as well as Quebec and British Columbia. The numbers of those falling ill continues to rise, in part, due to secondary cases in which bacteria is passed through improper hand washing, said officials. One 15-year-old girl remains hospitalized in serious condition and at least one class action suit has emerged.
In the US, E. coli is the leading cause of food-borne illness, accounting for about 73,000 infections and 61 deaths annually; last year, over 22 million pounds of beef and vegetables were recalled due to E. coli outbreaks.
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 are a group of bacteria found in animal intestines and feces. Some strains are necessary for digestion; some are harmful, even deadly, such as the O157:H7 strain that is generally found to be the culprit in E. coli-related food-borne illness outbreaks. O157:H7 is among those E. coli that may cause serious disease—such as fatal blood poisoning, cystitis, and deadly septicemia—and are in a group called Verocytotoxigenic E. coli (VTEC) that are linked to food poisoning. VTECs can result in death. Left untreated, E. coli toxicity can result in kidney damage and failure.