SYS-CON MEDIA Authors: Pat Romanski, Sean Houghton, Glenn Rossman, Ignacio M. Llorente, Xenia von Wedel

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Public Health Agency of Canada - Update: 09 January 2013 - Public Health Notice: E. coli O157:H7 illnesses in Atlantic Canada and Ontario

OTTAWA, Jan. 9, 2013 /CNW/ -

Why you should take note

Today, an additional case of E.coli O157:H7 was confirmed in Ontario as part of this outbreak. This brings Ontario's number of cases to 5 and the total to 16.

Products contaminated with E. coli O157 can pose a serious public health risk.

The Public Health Agency of Canada has been working with its health and food safety partners on an investigation into 16 cases of E. coli O157:H7 illness. There are six cases in New Brunswick, five in Nova Scotia and five in Ontario. The majority of cases have recovered or are recovering.

Status

Investigations into outbreaks of food-borne illness can be complex. Since early January 2013, the Agency has been leading a committee to investigate these illnesses that includes public health and food safety experts from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Health Canada and Provincial Health Authorities. The committee meets regularly to share and review the latest information and determine what actions should be taken to protect Canadians.

Based on the ongoing epidemiological and microbiological investigations conducted to date, it is likely that the people involved all got sick from the same source. More information about the epidemiological investigation is also available.

We don't know what the source of the illness is, but that investigation is continuing.

Province / Territory Total confirmed cases
New Brunswick 6
Nova Scotia 5
Ontario 5
TOTAL 16

E. coli O157 food-borne illnesses are not uncommon in Canada. In recent years, an average of about 440 cases of this type of E. coli infection was reported annually in Canada.

What you should do

Most strains of E. coli are harmless; however, some strains, such as E. coli O157:H7, can make people sick, causing severe stomach cramps, diarrhea and vomiting. Serious complications of an E. coli O157:H7 infection can include kidney failure.

If you think you are sick with an E. coli infection, consult a healthcare professional.

Symptoms of an E. coli O157:H7 infection

Like other food-borne illnesses, the symptoms of E. coli infection mainly involve the gut. Symptoms may vary from person to person; however, they often include:

  • severe stomach cramps;
  • diarrhea (often watery and may develop into bloody);
  • vomiting; and
  • fever (generally not very high—usually less than 38.5˚C/101˚F).

Symptoms usually last five to seven days.

Around 5 to 10 per cent of those who get sick from E. coli O157:H7 overall and about 15 per cent of young children and the elderly develop hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which can be fatal. Symptoms of HUS vary. Some people have seizures or strokes and some need blood transfusions and kidney dialysis. Others live with side effects such as permanent kidney damage.

Who is most at risk?

Infections can occur among people of all ages, however symptoms are likely to be more severe among the very young and the elderly.  Pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems are also at high risk of developing serious complications.

How to protect yourself

Proper hygiene and safe food handling and preparation practices are key to preventing the spread of all food-borne illnesses, including E. coli.

Hand washing is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of food-borne illness.

Contaminated foods may look and smell normal. It is important to ensure that you wash your fruits and vegetables before eating them, and cook meat to a safe internal temperature.

General food safety

Everyone should practice these general food safety precautions (phac-aspc.gc.ca/fs-sa/fst-csa-eng.php) at all times.

Additional information

The Public Health Agency of Canada's E. coli O157:H7 fact sheet (phac-aspc.gc.ca/fs-sa/fs-fi/ecoli-eng.php)
The Public Health Agency of Canada's Anatomy of a Foodborne Illness Outbreak (phac-aspc.gc.ca/fs-sa/anato-eng.php)
The Public Health Agency of Canada's video series, Something you ate? (phac-aspc.gc.ca/fs-sa/videos/index-eng.php)
The Government of Canada food safety web portal (foodsafety)

SOURCE Public Health Agency of Canada

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