British Columbia

10 people from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside hospitalized from bacterial gastroenteritis outbreak

Community health officials are trying to stop cases of bacterial gastroenteritis from spreading in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, after more than 10 people have been hospitalized due to diarrhea, fever and nausea over the past two weeks.

Shigella flexnari causes diarrhea, fever, nausea and cramps and is caused by unsanitary conditions

This illustration shows the shigella bacteria, which can bring on diarrhea, severe abdominal pain and fever. (CDC/Associated Press)

Community health officials are trying to stop cases of bacterial gastroenteritis from spreading in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, after more than 10 people have been hospitalized due to diarrhea, fever and nausea over the past two weeks.

Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) says there is an outbreak of shigella flexneri in the neighbourhood, but did not say how many people have become sick so far.  

The bacteria can cause diarrhea, fever, nausea, and cramps and is transmitted through sexual contact or unsanitary conditions that allow fecal matter to be ingested.

Karen Ward, a Downtown Eastside resident and advocate, is worried not enough people in the community know about the outbreak, how to prevent infection, or know to seek medical help if they are sick.

"Just tell people what's going on," she said to health officials working on the problem.

She says poor sanitation and limited access to proper toilets in the Downtown Eastside and at the encampment at Strathcona Park make the community susceptible to outbreaks.

"It's terrible," she said.

The City of Vancouver said it is taking action at the housing and facilities it operates in the area by following VCH guidelines to stop the outbreak.

As part of its pandemic response in the spring, the city installed handwashing stations and additional toilets in the Downtown Eastside. 

The City of Vancouver has installed more portable toilets like this one in the Downtown Eastside to help with the lack of washrooms that are open during the pandemic. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control says frequent and diligent handwashing is the best defence against the illness caused by the bacteria, which is called shigellosis.

It says symptoms usually start one to three days after exposure and can take up to a week to resolve.

Most people recover without medical intervention, but serious cases can be treated with antibiotics.

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