Canadian leaders vow to find source of E. coli outbreak that has sickened hundreds of children

Canadian leaders vow to find source of E. coli outbreak that has sickened hundreds of children

At least 337 people, the vast majority of them children younger than 5, are now confirmed sick in the Canadian outbreak of E. coli infections linked to a central kitchen serving daycare centers in Calgary. 

During a press conference on Sept. 15, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith spoke for the first time publicly about the outbreak since it was declared on Sept. 4. She said “politicians” had remained silent for so long so that they wouldn’t disrupt the care of patients and the work of investigators. She also said that such lag time would be avoided in the future.

Smith cried several times during the press conference and said that more than 1,300 children could have been affected had Alberta Health Services not acted as quickly as it did to contain the outbreak.

She said families of sick people will receive a one-time “compassionate” government payment of $2,000 per outbreak patient.

More than 1,000 people have signed a petition saying they should have been notified quickly about the outbreak. Smith said as soon as the outbreak was declared on Sept. 4, the daycare centers were notified, and health services notified parents for whom they had contact information at that time.

As of Thursday, the health services reported 12 patients receiving care in hospitals, all children. So far, 37 patients have been admitted to hospitals, but some have been released to continue recovering at their homes. All but one of the hospitalized patients were children.

There are 11 patients confirmed as having hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), including six patients receiving dialysis. HUS attacks the kidneys and blood system and can cause serious complications such as transplants, brain damage and lifelong health problems. 

According to an update from Alberta Health Services, patients with more severe illnesses are in stable condition and responding to treatment. 

There are 26 secondary transmissions, all of whom were not staff or attendees of the daycare centers but are within households linked to the outbreak.

During an interview with Q107 TV in Toronto, Alberta Health Minister Adriana LaGrange said the provincial health services does 40,000 food facility inspections annually. The central kitchen that serves the six implicated daycare centers, plus another five that have not reported any E. coli patients, had its annual inspection in April when two serious infractions were found. Those problems were corrected during the inspection, according to health services reports.

When the outbreak was declared on Sept. 4, the kitchen, KidsU Centennial – Fueling Minds Inc., was immediately closed. Inspectors found several violations of health codes, including cockroaches, pooling water on the floor, and a food thermometer stored in a bucket with uncleanable items.

“The operator indicated that cold foods were being transported to other locations over 90 minutes without temperature control. Appropriate equipment for keeping food cold during transport was not available,” inspectors reported.

LaGrange said part of the ongoing investigation is targeting what might be wrong with the overall process of inspections and whether changes need to be made. She stressed that it is not a question of when the central kitchen will be allowed to reopen but whether it will be allowed to resume operations.

Alberta Health Services collected leftover foods and frozen foods last week for testing. The health service continues to report that it has been unable to determine a specific food source of the E. coli O157:H7, but testing is ongoing.

LaGrange and Smith said the outbreak investigation will continue as long as it takes to find out what happened to cause it. They vowed that nothing like it would happen in the future.

The daycare centers that received food from the central kitchen and were temporarily closed were:

Fueling Brains Braeside — illnesses reported
Fueling Brains West 85th — illnesses reported
Fueling Brains New Brighton — illnesses reported
Fueling Brains Centennial — illnesses reported
Fueling Brains Bridgeland — illnesses reported
Fueling Brains McKnight — illnesses reported
Braineer Academy — cautionary closure
Kidz Space — cautionary closure
Little Oak Early Education (formerly Mangrove) — cautionary closure
Almond Branch School — cautionary closure
Vik Academy in Okotoks — cautionary closure

About E. coli infections
Anyone who has developed symptoms of E. coli infection should seek medical attention and tell their doctor about their possible exposure to the bacteria. Specific tests are required to diagnose the infections, which can mimic other illnesses.

The symptoms of E. coli infections vary for each person but often include severe stomach cramps and diarrhea, which is often bloody. Some patients may also have a fever. Most patients recover within five to seven days. Others can develop severe or life-threatening symptoms and complications.

About 5 percent to 10 percent of those diagnosed with E. coli infections develop a potentially life-threatening kidney failure complication known as a hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). Symptoms of HUS include fever, abdominal pain, tiredness, decreased frequency of urination, minor unexplained bruises or bleeding, and pallor. 

Many people with HUS recover within a few weeks, but some suffer permanent injuries or death. This condition can occur among people of any age but is most common in children younger than five years old because of their immature immune systems, older adults because of deteriorating immune systems, and people with compromised immune systems such as cancer patients.

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