July 7, 2020

E. coli O121 Outbreak in Canada

The Public Health Agency of Canada is investigating an outbreak of E. coli O121. Twelve confirmed cases of E. coli 0121 have been identified in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and Newfoundland. The cases all have a matching genetic fingerprint.

E. coli bacteria 2

Illness onset dates range from November to December 2016. Four people have been hospitalized. And officials do not know what caused the outbreak.

The most common ways to contract an E. coli infection are by eating undercooked or raw ground meat, or by eating contaminated fruits and vegetables. You can also acquire this infection by petting animals, more specifically ruminant animals, which harbor the pathogenic bacteria in their intestines.

The most recent E. coli O121 outbreak in the United States was the multistate outbreak linked to recalled General Mills flour. In that outbreak, 63 people in 24 states were sickened. Seventeen ill persons were hospitalized, and one person developed hemolytic uremic syndrome.

The symptoms of an E. coli infection include severe stomach and abdominal cramps, watery and/ or bloody diarrhea, a mild fever, vomiting, and nausea. Symptoms usually appear a few days after exposure to the bacteria, but some people don’t get sick until ten days have passed. This illness is usually so severe that people do visit a doctor.

Those most at risk from serious complications from an E. coli infection are the very young, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with chronic illnesses or compromised immune systems. Children under the age of 5 are most likely to develop hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which can destroy the kidneys and cause seizures and death.

To protect yourself against this type of infection, always cook food to a safe internal temperature and use a food thermometer to make sure it’s safe. Never eat hamburgers that are pink in the middle. If you are a restaurant and are served a pink burger, send it back. And ask for a new bun and a new plate, since juices from the burger may have contaminated both.

In addition, always keep raw meats, eggs, and fish away from foods that are to be eaten uncooked. And avoid cross-contamination by using a clean plate to hold cooked meats. Use warm soapy water to clean knives, cutting boards, utensils, and your hands while cooking.

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