E. coli probe still searching for any N.B., N.S. links

New Brunswick and Nova Scotia public health officials are still working together to see if there are any common links between E. coli outbreaks in the region.

All 5 New Brunswick E. coli cases are linked, says Dr. Eilish Cleary

New Brunswick and Nova Scotia public health officials are still working together to see if there are any common links between E. coli outbreaks in the region.

Five people in New Brunswick and 10 people in Nova Scotia have been infected with E. coli starting just before Christmas.

Dr. Eilish Cleary, the chief medical officer of health in New Brunswick, said a common connection between the New Brunswick and Nova Scotias cases has not been established.

"We are working quite closely with the Nova Scotia authorities at this point in time. To date we haven’t been able to establish a firm link but we are still looking," Clearly said on Tuesday.

"Now we are still waiting for some results, laboratory results from Nova Scotia, to see if it is a matching E. coli or not. And in addition, we are looking at the different types of potential exposures."

While health officials are still trying to determine if the New Brunswick and Nova Scotia cases are linked, Cleary said tests show all five New Brunswick cases are connected.

"Laboratory results show that the patterns of the five cases are closely matching, which allows us to conclude that the cases are linked," Cleary said in a statement.

The five E. coli cases in New Brunswick all affected patients between the ages of 17 and 39.

The two provinces are still trying to determine the original source of the E. coli.

Dr. Robert Strang, the chief public health officer in Nova Scotia, said the likely source of the outbreak is produce.

He said on Monday one of the possibilities being investigated is lettuce that may have been chopped or processed.

However, Cleary said on Tuesday it is still "far too early" in the investigation for the public health officials to pinpoint a source for the outbreak.

How to prevent spread of E. coli

  • Wash, peel raw vegetables and fruit
  • Cook meat properly
  • Wash hands and surfaces after handling raw meat
  • Consume only pasteurized dairy products

New Brunswick’s top public health official said they’ve learned from previous outbreaks not to jump too quickly as naming a source.

Cleary said the investigators are keeping an open mind on what may have caused the E. coli cases.

In situations where there are cases spread out across the region, she said the investigators look for similar patterns, such as consumption of certain produce and meat, to help narrow the search.

Cleary said investigators can determine it is E. coli O157:H7, but that is all they know.

"When you look a little bit closer at the genetic profile which is something that we can do now in the laboratory the pattern that we see in all cases is closely linked and that leads us to conclude that there is probably a similar exposure or source of the disease for all of these five individuals," she said.

"However, it doesn’t match exactly the patterns that were seen in either Miramichi, the outbreak last year, or indeed any other major outbreaks in Canada, to date. So we know this is a different strain."

E. coli O157 is the same strain that killed seven people in Walkerton, Ont., in 2000.

This particular strain of E. coli secretes a powerful toxin that can destroy red blood cells, leading to severe illness, high blood pressure and kidney damage.

It also led to the biggest beef recall in Canadian history last fall. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency recalled more than 1,500 beef products that were packed at XL Foods, a meat processing plant in Brooks, Alta.

E. coli O157 also put two Fredericton teenagers in hospital in July.

Another outbreak of E. coli O157 in Miramichi in April hospitalized at least 13 people.

Symptoms of E. coli O157 resemble gastro-intestinal illness, such as severe cramps, bloody diarrhea, abdominal pain and vomiting.