Public Health Agency of Canada

Public Health Agency of Canada

September 17, 2013 19:18 ET

Public Health Notice: E. coli O157:H7 Illness in British Columbia and Alberta

Updated September 17, 2013

Why you should take note

OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(Marketwired - Sept. 17, 2013) - The Public Health Agency of Canada, along with its health and food safety partners, is investigating eleven cases of E.coli O157:H7 illness; four in British Columbia and seven in Alberta.

These individuals became ill between mid-July and early September. Most people who become ill from E.coli bacteria will recover within 5 to 10 days.

Information available to date indicates that cheese produced by Gort's Gouda Cheese Farm, in Salmon Arm, British Columbia, poses a risk to consumers as it may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7. Based on this information, the affected product will be recalled today.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is currently working to identify which specific products must be recalled and where they were distributed. Once that information has been confirmed, the CFIA will issue a public warning to consumers. The CFIA will also conduct recall effectiveness checks to verify that products have been promptly removed from the marketplace.

This Notice will be updated as new information becomes available.

There is currently no indication of widespread risk to Canadians. However, E.coli O157:H7 can pose a serious public health risk. Additional cases of illness may be identified and linked to this outbreak in the future.

We want to remind Canadians to follow proper hygiene and safe food handling and preparation practices to prevent the spread of all food-borne illness including E.coli for example:

  • Wash your hands before and after cooking;
  • Keep knives, counters and cutting boards clean;
  • Keep raw meats separate from other foods when you store them; and
  • Refrigerate or freeze left-overs promptly.

Status

Investigations into outbreaks of food-borne illness can be complex. Since mid-September 2013, the Agency has been leading a committee that includes public health and food safety experts from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Health Canada and Provincial Ministries of Health and Health Authorities. The committee meets regularly to share and review the latest information and determine what actions should be taken to protect Canadians.

Province / Territory Total cases
British Columbia 4
Alberta 7
TOTAL 11

One of the cases in British Columbia has died, and the cause of death is currently under investigation.

E. coli O157 food-borne illnesses are not unexpected in Canada and no unusual increases in the number of these illnesses have been detected nationally. The Public Health Agency of Canada's National Enteric Surveillance Program shows that E.coli cases in Canada have been declining in recent years.

What you should do

Most strains of E. coli are harmless; however, some strains, such as E. coli O157:H7, can make people sick, causing severe stomach cramps, diarrhea and vomiting. Serious complications of an E. coli O157:H7 infection can include kidney failure.

If you think you are sick with an E. coli infection, consult a healthcare professional.

Symptoms of an E. coli O157:H7 infection

Like other food-borne illnesses, the symptoms of E. coli infection mainly involve the gut. Symptoms may vary from person to person; however, they often include:

  • severe stomach cramps;
  • diarrhea (often watery and may develop into bloody);
  • vomiting; and
  • fever (generally not very high-usually less than 38.5 °C/101 °F).

Symptoms usually last five to ten days.

Overall, around 5 to 10 per cent of those who get sick from E. coli O157:H7 develop hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), an acute renal failure which can be fatal. Of those, children younger than 5 years old and the elderly are at greatest risk of developing HUS. Symptoms of HUS vary. Some people have seizures or strokes and some need blood transfusions and kidney dialysis. Others live with side effects such as permanent kidney damage.

Who is most at risk?

Infections can occur among people of all ages, however symptoms are likely to be more severe among the very young and the elderly. Pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems are also at high risk of developing serious complications.

How to protect yourself

Proper hygiene and safe food handling and preparation practices are key to preventing the spread of all food-borne illnesses, including E. coli.

Hand washing is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of food-borne illness.

General food safety

Everyone should practice these general food safety precautions (phac-aspc.gc.ca/fs-sa/fst-csa-eng.php) at all times.

Additional information

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency's website: (http://www.inspection.gc.ca/eng/1297964599443/1297965645317)

The Public Health Agency of Canada's E. coli O157:H7 fact sheet (phac-aspc.gc.ca/fs-sa/fs-fi/ecoli-eng.php)

The Public Health Agency of Canada's Anatomy of a Food-borne Illness Outbreak (phac-aspc.gc.ca/fs-sa/anato-eng.php)

The Public Health Agency of Canada's video series, Something you ate? (phac-aspc.gc.ca/fs-sa/videos/index-eng.php)

The Government of Canada food safety web portal (foodsafety)

Contact Information

  • Public Health Agency of Canada
    Media Relations
    (613) 957-2983