The escalating number of children afflicted by a sweeping E. coli outbreak across 11 daycares in the Calgary region has nearly doubled, bringing the count to 96 as confirmed by Alberta Health Services (AHS) this Wednesday afternoon.
A staggering 22 of these cases have proven severe enough to warrant hospitalization, with a majority of them, 16 to be precise, being cared for at Alberta Children’s Hospital, while the remaining children are receiving treatment at the Peter Lougheed Centre. To offer the best possible care, specialist teams with a focus on diagnoses and support have been mobilized to assist the affected children, according to Dr. Francesco Rizzuti, an AHS medical officer of health for the Calgary Zone.
Two-year-old Doulie, son of Danielle Redwood, is one such child affected by the outbreak. While he didn’t require admission, his condition necessitated daily blood tests. The concern looming over these families is the potential development of Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS), a dreaded condition known to impair kidney function.
Redwood recounted her anxieties, saying, “Depending on the day, it’s been five to seven hours at the hospital. I’ve been losing sleep over it. It’s very scary to know what could potentially happen.”
The apprehension is not misplaced, as children are considered to be at high risk for developing HUS, which can sit anywhere between 10 to 15 percent risk, according to Dr. Cora Constantinescu, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the Alberta Children’s Hospital. The doctor stresses the importance of early detection to ensure the kidneys receive the right volume of hydration.
In the meantime, the search for the source of the outbreak remains in progress. Food samples from Fueling Minds, the central kitchen servicing all the daycares, are currently under rigorous testing, as revealed by Dr. Rizzuti. He also noted that finding a specific food source might prove tricky, and their primary aim at this stage is to prevent any further transmission and spread of the disease.
A review of past AHS health inspection reports for Fueling Minds, dating back to 2021, revealed a number of violations including a lack of kitchen sanitizers, soiled food contact surfaces, faulty appliances, and improper food temperature storage. Despite corrective measures and follow-up inspections, the latest of which happened in April, the kitchen was compliant with health regulations only prior to the outbreak.
In light of the current situation, the decision has been made to keep the six Fueling Brains Academy locations in Calgary and five other sites closed until the issue is fully resolved. Dr. Rizzuti also confirmed that while not all daycares have reported cases, the closure is a preemptive measure to curb any further outbreak.
The worrying turn of events has left Danielle Redwood and many other parents questioning the trust they put in their daycare providers. Speaking on the matter, Redwood expressed her desire for change stating, “This can’t happen again. We don’t even know if all the kids are out of the woods yet.”
As an initiative to keep parents informed, AHS has launched a website dedicated to providing crucial information including the list of symptoms, courses of action if a child or anyone else in the household manifests symptoms, and instructions on how to minimize the risk of contracting E. coli. More than 2,000 stool sample testing kits have also been distributed to parents and staff across all daycares. Constant monitoring of the results and regular check-ins with those impacted ensures that the situation is being dealt with utmost rigor and precision by Public Health.