With at least 234 lab-confirmed E. Coli cases connected with an outbreak in several Calgary daycare locations, the province said that they are still not able to confirm the source of the outbreak.
During a Tuesday morning press conference, Health Minister Adriana LaGrange said that Alberta Health Services (AHS) believes that the source is very likely linked with the shared kitchen utilized by the daycare facilities.
The province said that the central kitchen used by the daycares was inspected five times this year, with the latest inspection taking place on September 5 following the proactive closure of the kitchen due to the outbreak.
"Three critical violations were identified during the inspection in September, relating to food handling, sanitization and pest control. Two non-critical violations were also identified related to an odour and storage of utensils."
According to the province, public health inspectors have collected samples of 11 food types that were found in the centralized kitchen and they've collected samples of eight leftover food samples that were available from the childcare sites. The samples are being tested in the AHS public health laboratory. Food histories are also being collected from people who attended or who worked in the affected facilities.
Prior to this closure, the facility was last inspected in April. Two infractions were found at that time and corrected immediately through collaboration between AHS and the operator. As of the end of April 2023, no violations existed in this kitchen.
However, officials underlined the kitchen will not be allowed to reopen until all issues related to the infractions have been properly addressed and signed off by public health officials and the investigation into the E. Coli outbreak has been completed.
Six daycares linked to the E. Coli outbreak - the majority of which are in Calgary and one in Okotoks have been under closure orders by AHS since September 4. These facilities include:
- Fueling Brains Academy West 85th (Calgary)
- Fueling Brains Academy New Brighton (Calgary)
- Fueling Brains Academy McKnight (Calgary)
- Fueling Brains Academy Centennial (Calgary)
- Fueling Brains Academy Braeside (Calgary)
- Thornhill Childcare – Vik Academy (Okotoks)
- Kidz Space Daycare (Calgary)
According to a timeline provided by both provincial officials and AHS, on September 4, AHS declared an E. Coli outbreak in the Calgary zone.
"This was prompted by a noticeable increase in young children coming to the emergency departments in the city with gastrointestinal complaints, including bloody diarrhea," Dr. Mark Joffe, the chief medical officer of health for the province said. "Those daycare centers were linked to one centralized kitchen the kitchen was closed and an investigation began immediately."
- On September 5, AHS stated that at that time 56 lab-confirmed cases had been linked to the outbreak, with 15 individuals hospitalized, and up to 50 children presenting to hospital.
- On September 7, AHS stated there were 128 lab-confirmed cases connected to this outbreak, with 25 patients receiving care in the hospital (20 at Alberta Children's Hospital and 5 at Peter Lougheed Centre). On September 9, the lab-confirmed cases grew to 164.
- On September 10, there were 190 lab-confirmed cases.
- On September 11, there were 231 lab-confirmed cases.
"I want to be absolutely clear that this has been an extraordinary outbreak; both in terms of the numbers and the severity. It is certainly the largest E. Coli outbreak in Alberta that I'm aware of. It is particularly serious, given that it has largely impacted young children who are at most risk of severe outcomes," Dr. Joffe said.
Minister of Children and Family Services, Searle Turton explained that they are expecting that the impacted daycare programs will soon be reopening their doors.
"Both AHS and licensing staff have been working with programs to ensure that they have the support and measures required to safely reopen the childcare licensing team will meet with Fuelling Brains this afternoon about the outbreak and their plans going forward."
As of today, there are currently 25 patients receiving care in the hospital. 22 patients have been confirmed as having hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which is a severe illness caused by E. coli infection. Six patients are receiving peritoneal dialysis at Alberta Children’s Hospital.
"Children with severe illness are in stable conditions and are receiving the care they need in hospital. Other children and families are receiving care and support at three outpatient clinics set up in Calgary hospitals," the province stated.
E. Coli is a type of bacterial infection that is most commonly caused by eating contaminated food and while the majority of individuals who get sick from E. Coli generally improve on their own and without specific treatment within 10 days, children, the elderly and the immunocompromised are at greater risk of complications from this strain of E. Coli.