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Two local E. coli cases part of wider outbreak

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The North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit is reporting that two local E. coli cases have been linked to a national outbreak involving romaine lettuce.

Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jim Chirico says that the issue is being monitored closely. Chirico urges caution and proper food-handling practices to avoid infection.

The source of the romaine lettuce is thus far unknown, but the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is working with public health officials to narrow it down. To date, no product recall has been issued due to the outbreak. So far, cases have been diagnosed in five provinces, with many of the sick reporting ingestion of romaine lettuce prior to falling ill.

The health unit advises being aware of E.coli infection symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, headache, mild fever, severe stomach cramps, watery or bloody diarrhea. A bad upset stomach could, in fact, be a symptom of an E. coli infection. Most symptoms end within five to ten days. While most people recover completely on their own, some people may have a more serious illness that requires hospital care or may lead to long-lasting health effects. Contact your health care provider if symptoms persist.

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To protect your health, make sure you follow the following food safety tips:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds, before and after handling lettuce.
  • Unwashed lettuce, including whole heads of lettuce sold in sealed bags, should be handled and washed using these steps:
  • Discard outer leaves of fresh lettuce.
  • Wash unpackaged lettuce under fresh, cool running water. There is no need to use anything other than water to wash lettuce. Washing it gently with water is as effective as using produce cleansers.
  • Keep rinsing your lettuce until all of the dirt has been washed away.
  • Don’t soak lettuce in a sink full of water. It can become contaminated by bacteria in the sink.
  • Store lettuce in the refrigerator for up to seven days. Discard when leaves become wilted or brown.
  • Use warm water and soap to thoroughly wash all utensils, countertops and cutting boards before and after handling lettuce to avoid cross-contamination.
  • Ready-to-eat lettuce products sold in sealed packages and labelled as washed, pre-washed or triple-washed do not need to be washed again. These products should also be refrigerated and used before the expiration date.

For signs and symptoms related to E.coli, please call the Health Unit’s Communicable Disease Control Program at 705-474-1400 extension 2229. For food safety questions, please call the Health Unit’s Environmental Health Program at 705-474-1400 ext. 2400.

Quick Facts

  • Currently, there are 30 cases of E. coli O157 illness under investigation in five provinces: Ontario, (6), Quebec (5), New Brunswick (5), Nova Scotia (1), and Newfoundland and Labrador (13). Individuals became sick in November and December 2017.
  • Twelve individuals have been hospitalized. One individual has died.
  • Individuals who became ill are between the ages of 4 and 80 years of age. The majority of cases (70%) are female.
  • There is no real treatment for E. coli infections, other than monitoring the illness, providing comfort, and preventing dehydration through proper hydration and nutrition.
  • Although anyone can get an E. coli infection, pregnant women, those with weakened immune systems, young children and older adults are most at risk for developing serious complications.
  • E. coli are bacteria that live naturally in the intestines of cattle, poultry and other animals. A common source of E. coli illness is raw fruits and vegetables that have come in contact with faeces from infected animals.
  • Leafy greens, such as lettuce, can become contaminated in the field by soil, contaminated water, animals or improperly composted manure. Lettuce can also be contaminated by bacteria during and after harvest from handling, storing and transporting the produce. Contamination in lettuce is also possible at the grocery store, in the refrigerator, or from counters and cutting boards through cross-contamination with harmful bacteria from raw meat, poultry or seafood.
  • Most E. coli strains are harmless to humans, but some varieties cause illness.
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