Canada E. coli Cases Rise to 26; 133 Being Investigated

Those who have fallen ill from <"">E. coli contamination linked to the Harvey’s chain restaurant in Ontario’s North Parry area has risen to 26 since last week.  The North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit also confirmed yesterday that an additional 133 cases are being investigated to determine if they are linked to undercooked beef served at Harvey’s in North Bay.  Harvey’s has been closed since last Sunday.  Those sickened range in age from one-year-old to 90 years old.

North Parry health officials now believe that there are likely other cases that span Ontario because many of the Harvey’s customers traveled on the nearby Trans Canada Highway.  Medical authorities throughout Ontario have begun to investigate potential cases as well.  Dr. Catherine Whiting, the North Bay health unit’s medical officer, said more cases are likely to come.  “Although the number of new cases of E. coli O157: H7 is slowing down, it is essential that everyone prevent the spread of the bacteria by taking precautions, such as continuing thorough hand washing practices,” she said.  “As we refine our investigation, the numbers of cases directly linked to the outbreak may change.”

E. coli O157: H7 is the same strain of bacteria that contaminated Walkerton, Ontario’s water supply in 2000.  That outbreak claimed seven lives and sickened at least 2,500 others.  Medical experts are encouraging people with symptoms to avoid going to work, as the E. coli O157:H7 bacteria can spread easily from person to person.  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.

The E. coli bacteria 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 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.

Food borne contaminations have been in the news on a nearly weekly basis recently and are exacerbated with a food path that is difficult to police because the food-surveillance system is outdated, under-funded, and overwhelmed by the emergence of mega-farms, mega-distribution centers, and mega-transporters.  Couple this with the overarching problem with infectious diseases, which are now becoming more resistant to bacteria because of antibiotic overuse and abuse.  For instance, drug resistant E. coli are being reported world-wide and are similar in path to a mutated staph called MRSA, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus that, when not treated early, is resistant to all but the one antibiotic of last resort.   In addition to the spread of E. coli and the growing antibiotic resistance of infections, there is compelling data that the negative health effects of E. coli can remain for months and years later confirming these illnesses can have long-term, lasting effects that can either linger for months or years or can show up months or years—as late as 10-to-20 years—after the original illness.

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