With nearly 100 laboratory-confirmed patients in an E. Coli outbreak linked to daycare centers, investigators could be looking at weeks or months before their work is done.

Eleven daycare centers in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, have been closed because of the illnesses, which now number 96. During a press conference this afternoon, Dr. Francesco Rizzuti, medical officer of Alberta Health Services Calgary, said 22 patients had been hospitalized. 

Rizzuti said both adults and children have been confirmed sick as outbreak patients. The Alberta Health Services reported that all hospitalized patients are children. Rizzuti declined to say what specific complications the patients suffer, only that some symptoms are severe.

Patients started going to emergency rooms and being admitted to hospitals this past weekend, Rizzuti said. He made the decision Monday to close the 11 daycare centers because they share a common kitchen. On Tuesday morning investigators began collecting samples for testing. Among the samples collected were leftovers and frozen foods.

Parents have reported to Canadian media that they believe meatloaf served to children may be the source of the E. Coli, but Rizzuti would not confirm that.

More than 2,000 stool sample kits have been sent to the implicated daycare centers. Parents and staff can pick up the kits for free. Specific tests are required to diagnose E. Coli infection because it can mimic other illnesses.

Some media reports have said that the central kitchen used by the daycare centers had received non-compliance scores during recent inspections. However, Rizzuti said that is not the case and that the kitchen’s most recent inspections have shown compliance with food safety regulations.

Only some of the daycare centers that have been closed are associated with patients, said Rizzuti. But as a cautionary move he ordered all 11 using the central kitchen to be closed until the situation is resolved.

“We think there is a common source,” Rizzuti said during the press conference this afternoon, adding that it is not unusual for investigators to be unable to determine the source of outbreaks.

He said hospital care for those infected with E. coli can include treatment for dehydration, or, on a more severe scale, monitoring for hemolytic uremic syndrome, a type of kidney failure. Patients are also monitored for sepsis.

Investigators are calling each household with a confirmed illness in addition to collecting and testing samples. Rizzuti said it could take weeks or months to finish the investigation.

The following sites have been issued a closure order until issues are resolved:

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

Anyone who works at any of the daycare centers or has a child who attends them should be on the lookout for E. Coli symptoms.

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, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

About 5 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, feeling very tired, decreased frequency of urination, small 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. 

People who experience HUS symptoms should immediately seek emergency medical care. People with HUS will likely be hospitalized because the condition can cause other serious and ongoing problems such as hypertension, chronic kidney disease, brain damage, and neurologic problems.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News,click here)