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Winnipeg E. coli Outbreak Linked to Folklorama

An outbreak of E. coli O157 in Winnipeg is being blamed on food eaten at a popular event known as Folklorama.

Up to 16 Canadians were treated at Winnipeg area emergency rooms between Aug. 1 and 16 for E. coli symptoms. One case was confirmed.

The investigation centers on potential exposure at the Russian pavilion during the now ended Folklorama.  Winnipeg health officials believe most people got sick from eating at the Russian pavilion during the first week of August.

Dr. Pierre Plourde said virtually everyone infected with E. coli named the Russian pavilion as a place where they ate and drank.

The precise source of the outbreak still is not known.  The menu at the Russian pavilion included several items that contained ground beef, a common source of E. coli infections.

Until the current outbreak, Winnipeg had seen only nine cases of E. coli since January. Plourde said because E. coli outbreaks are rare, health officials are very aggressive about investigating them.

And although Folklorama concluded its run last week, officials are concerned that secondary transmission by people who went to the event could still be spreading the pathogen.  Plourde said the known cases might be only the tip of the iceberg.

Most of the Winnipeg E. coli victims reported having severe diarrhea and abdominal cramps.   Because E. coli bacteria can be transferred from person to person, Canadian officials are urging people to thoroughly wash their hands after using the toilet.

While most of the victims were treated at the end of the festival, the mother of one said Winnipeg health officials should have gotten word out about the outbreak earlier, before Folklorama ended.  She declined to be identified.

This was the first time in 41 years that Folklorama has been associated with an outbreak of foodborne illness, according to Ron Gauthier, who produces the event.

Sofia Barklon, who managed the Russian pavilion, said none of the volunteers or performers got sick and they ate at the exhibit three times a day.  She also said the Russian food sold out every night so there was not much for health inspectors to test.

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