E.coli outbreak in Alberta stumps health officials, source remains elusive

Health officials are trying to track down the source of an E. coli outbreak whose numbers in the past month have easily eclipsed cases recorded in all of 2013.

It led to the brief closure of a southeast Calgary restaurant that Alberta Health Services officials say was linked to the outbreak.

Since July 15, Alberta Health Services has confirmed 122 cases of the food-borne illness in the province, compared to 96 in the entirety of last year.

An AHS official on Wednesday called the outbreak “significant.”

The most dramatic centres of the outbreak centre around the Calgary and Edmonton regions.

In the AHS’s Calgary zone, 59 cases of E.Coli have been confirmed since July 15, well in excess of the 36 illnesses recorded throughout 2013.

The fact it’s erupted simultaneously in both cities “begs the question if there’s a common ingredient or common supplies,” said Dr. Richard Musto, the AHS’s Calgary lead medical officer of health.

“But we haven’t found that yet…we haven’t found one particular place or an ingredient that’s a smoking gun.”

 

Patients’ restaurant visits and home food preparations are being traced back, he added.

On Aug. 11, the Chi Lan Vietnamese restaurant at 4307 130 Ave. S.E. was closed, due partly to the presence of E. coli.

It’s since re-opened after being found in compliance with health regulations, said Musto.

E. coli is caused by the ingestion of food contaminated by fecal matter.

It can occasionally be fatal but commonly leads to stomach cramps, bloody diarrhea and vomiting.

Throughout the province, 17 people have been hospitalized over the past month, seven of them in Calgary.

It’s a definite concern but a condition not transferable from person-to-person, noted Musto.

It’s common for E. coli infection numbers to increase during the summer, when the handling of grilled food is more common, said the physician.

bill.kaufmann@sunmedia.ca

On Twitter: @SUNDaveDormer

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