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U.S. May Be Linked to Canada E. coli Cases

Nov 10, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP There have been two developments in the Canada E. coli outbreaks.  First, DNA tests on the E. coli outbreaks in Halton, Niagara, and Waterloo have all been linked, proving that they share the same rare genetic makeup.  Public health officials there are also looking into whether E. coli cases at the University of Guelph also share the same specific DNA fingerprint, said Dr. Bob Nosal, medical officer of health for Halton.  Laboratory testing enabled investigators to isolate the genetic code for E. coli O157:H7 and match cases to some of those in Ontario.

Meanwhile, in the second development, the same the genetic code recently showed up in five E. coli cases in the United States in Southern California, South Dakota, and New Jersey, Nosal said.  Nosal called the similarities very suspicious.  "When this rare (genetic code) was showing up in the U.S., it was obviously of interest," Nosal said. "This is how complex (the investigation) becomes.  In Ontario, the cases are quite close geographically.  So when you get something that rare showing up in the U.S., you really wonder—is it possibly linked?"  The health units are collaborating with the Ontario Ministry of Health; the Canadian Food Inspection Agency; and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia.

Of the cases linked in Ontario, 13 have been confirmed as having occurred in the Niagara Region, three in Halton, and two in Waterloo.  Meanwhile, another 106 cases in Niagara and Halton are being investigated.

The same E. coli strain—O157:H7—is the same strain that caused hundreds of people in North Bay to fall ill; however, genetic testing confirmed that those in southern Ontario and North Bay are not linked.  And, while health officials there have located the source of the E. coli outbreak, tainted lettuce or some other produce is strongly suspected, Nosal said.  Dr. Robin Williams, medical officer of health for Niagara, maintains that public health investigators do not know if the E. coli originated at a supplier, a distributor, or elsewhere.  The Halton cases are believed to be linked to Johnathan's Family Restaurant in Burlington.

As we have long been explaining, E. coli are a group of bacteria that are found in animal intestines and feces.  The bacteria have been known to cause contaminations in meat, produce, and water supplies and are often spread do to shoddy and sloppy slaughtering practices.  Also, while some E. coli strains are necessary for digestion, others 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, that is generally found to be the culprit in E. coli-related food-borne illness outbreak, and is to blame in these outbreaks.  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.

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