Canadian health officials are investigating an outbreak of Escherichia coli O157 that has sickened two dozen people from four provinces since mid-July. The Public Health Agency of Canada says that a specific source or product has not been linked to the outbreak to date.
There have been 24 cases of E.coli with a matching genetic fingerprint reported in Alberta (1), Ontario (7), Quebec (14) and Nova Scotia (2). Individuals became sick between July 12 and August 8, 2015, with the peak of illnesses reported to date occurring between July 25 and August 1, 2015. The majority of cases (63%) were male, with an average age of 24 years. Five cases have been hospitalized but all have recovered or are recovering.
Health officials say the risk is low and the investigation is ongoing.
E. coli O157:H7 can be found in healthy animals, such as cattle, sheep and goats. People become infected through contact with colonized animals or infected people, or food and water contaminated with infected animal or human feces. Once infected, people shed the bacteria in their stool, which can spread the illness.
Symptoms of infection include abdominal cramping, diarrhea, vomiting, and sometimes bloody stool. Symptoms usually begin three to four days after exposure but can appear from one to eight days after exposure. Symptoms typically last five to10 days. While most people have mild symptoms and get better on their own, a small number of people will develop severe complications that require hospitalization. Young children and elderly adults are at highest risk for serious illness due to E. coli O157:H7 infection. In rare cases, individuals infected with E. coli O157:H7 will develop a complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome, or HUS, that can lead to death.