The Public Health Agency of Canada announced Friday that along with provincial public health partners, they are investigating an outbreak of Escherichia coli, called E.coli O121.  The source of the outbreak has not been identified..

E. coli/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
E. coli/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)

There have been 12 cases of E.coli O121 with a matching genetic fingerprint reported in three provinces: British Columbia (4), Saskatchewan (4), and Newfoundland and Labrador (4). The illness onset dates range from November to December 2016. Four individuals have been hospitalized.

Two of the most common ways to come into contact with E. coli are by improperly handling raw ground meat and by eating ground meat that is undercooked. Common sources of E.coli may also be contaminated raw fruits and vegetables, untreated water, unpasteurized milk and raw milk products, and unpasteurized apple juice or cider.

People infected with E. coli can have a wide range of symptoms. Some do not get sick at all, though they can still spread the infection to others. Others feel as though they have a bad case of upset stomach. Still others become seriously ill and must be hospitalized.

The following symptoms can appear within one to ten days after contact with the bacteria:

  • severe stomach cramps
  • watery or bloody diarrhea
  • vomiting
  • nausea
  • headache
  • little or no fever

Most symptoms clear up within five to ten days. But some people who are infected with E. coli develop life-threatening symptoms, including kidney failure, seizures and stroke. While most will recover completely, others may suffer permanent health effects, like kidney damage, and some may die.

Although anyone can get an E. coli infection, pregnant women, people with compromised immune systems, young children and older adults are most at risk for developing serious complications.

There is no real treatment for E. coli infections, other than monitoring the illness, providing comfort, and preventing dehydration through proper hydration and nutrition. People who develop complications may need further treatment, like dialysis for kidney failure.