96 lab-confirmed cases linked to E. coli at Calgary daycares, 22 kids in hospital: AHS

There are now 96 lab-confirmed cases linked to the current E. coli outbreak in Calgary daycare centres, Alberta Health Services said Wednesday.

Dr. Francesco Rizzuti, medical officer of health with AHS Calgary zone said that of the 96 cases there have been 22 hospitalizations thus far.

Sixteen of those patients are currently at the Alberta Children’s Hospital, while six are at the Peter Lougheed Centre. AHS confirmed that all of those hospitalized are children.

The first patients were admitted over the Labour Day weekend, reporting symptoms such as bloody diarrhea. 

Rizzuti noted that a number of the patients who have been hospitalized are struggling with “serious illness.” 

Hospital care for those infected with E. coli can include treatment for dehydration, or, on a more severe scale, continued monitoring for hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a disease which affects the kidneys.

AHS confirmed to CBC News that a small number of patients linked to the outbreak have developed HUS, but that all those hospitalized are in stable condition.

Colonies of E. coli bacteria grown on a Hektoen enteric (HE) agar plate are seen in a microscopic image courtesy of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). (CDC/Reuters)

Rizzuti added that patients could also be monitored for any kind of secondary infection, including sepsis. 

“AHS understands the stress and concern this is causing families with sick children,” said Rizzuti. He added that AHS is still investigating the source of this outbreak and will continue to update families as information becomes available. 

Parent notified about outbreak days later

CBC met with parent Phoebe Materi outside of Fueling Brains’ Mcknight location Wednesday. Her son first fell ill with symptoms last Wednesday, but Materi said her family wasn’t notified about the outbreak until Sunday night. 

“About an hour or two [after] coming home [from daycare], his temperature was over 40 degrees and then it just kept increasing throughout the night,” said Materi. 

Materi said that although her son’s symptoms lasted about 48 hours, the fact that they weren’t notified of the E. coli outbreak until days later has left her feeling frustrated about how the situation was handled.

“Had I known that his symptoms were related to an E. coli outbreak at the daycare, I would have sent him to the hospital,” she said. 

“I feel like as a parent, I could have done more for my son when he was sick and I would have been better prepared for how to handle his symptoms. Especially since it sounds like there were a lot of kids that were sick and hospitalized.”

E. coli is most commonly contracted from consuming food contaminated by fecal matter, and can be easily transmitted through skin-on-skin contact. 

Infectious diseases expert Dr. Isaac Bogoch explains shiga toxin-producing E. coli

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Infectious diseases expert Dr. Isaac Bogoch explains why it’s important to understand the type of E. coli that’s causing an outbreak and why antibiotics aren’t always the right call.

Dr. Cora Constantinescu, pediatrician and infectious disease specialist at the Alberta Children’s Hospital, said the shiga toxin-producing E. coli, or STEC E. coli, which has been identified as the strain present in this outbreak, is dangerous to children under the age of five because of its ability to cause HUS.

“That’s why this is an all hands on deck kind of approach,” she said. 

Constantinescu said treatment for the most severe cases of HUS can include dialysis to help kidney function continue. 

Dr. Lynora Saxinger, an infectious diseases specialist at the University of Alberta, said that while STEC E. coli isn’t necessarily rare — there are cases reported every year — the fact that the disease has infected a vulnerable population makes the situation more of a concern. 

Saxinger added that she doesn’t expect there to be a larger outbreak in the Calgary community beyond those who were initially infected. 

A blonde woman in a white doctor's coat looks at the camera.
Dr. Lynora Saxinger, a University of Alberta infectious diseases specialist, said the fact that the outbreak has infected a vulnerable population makes the situation more of a concern.  (Martin Weaver/CBC)

“It might just be one food product that was responsible for a lot of exposures across a very high risk group of people.”

Rizzuti said that the shared kitchen used by the 11 daycare sites “was in compliance with AHS health regulations” prior to the outbreak. 

He added that both fresh and frozen food samples have been collected from the kitchen and are being tested. 

While 11 daycare centres were closed over the weekend, Rizzuti noted that not all of the sites have been positively linked to the outbreak. But as AHS is still conducting its investigation, Rizzuti said that families whose children attended any of the 11 sites should continue to monitor for symptoms.

Dr. Tanya Principe, a pediatric emergency physician at the Alberta Children’s Hospital, said that she expects to see an increased number of positive cases over the next few days, as further testing is conducted. 

“We know that most of the time that children will get worse kind of in that five to 10 days of their illness or after 10 days of exposure, so we’re monitoring for that right now,” she said. 

“Until [we] know what the source was and when it happened, it’s hard to predict when we’re going to see that peak.”

Principe stressed that while parents should not panic, they should continue to monitor their children for symptoms and take them to the emergency department if they are unable to drink fluids, have dark urine, have unexplained bleeding or bruising, have a purple rash that does not go away, have any abdominal pain or severe headaches, or otherwise seem unwell. 

The following daycare centres remained closed until further notice:  

  • 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, Alta.

AHS has created a resource page for families affected by the outbreak. Click here for more information.

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