Alberta Health Services has declared an E. coli outbreak at six Calgary daycares and five additional sites “that share a central kitchen.”
AHS confirmed the outbreak late Monday. On Tuesday, AHS said 56 lab-confirmed cases have been linked to the outbreak, up from 17 on Monday. Fifteen kids have been hospitalized and up to 50 children have presented to hospital.
The public health authority said 11 total sites have had a closure order issued until issues are resolved:
- Fueling Brains Braeside
- Fueling Brains West 85th
- Fueling Brains New Brighton
- Fueling Brains Centennial
- Fueling Brains Bridgeland
- Fueling Brains McKnight
- Braineer Academy
- Kidz Space
- Little Oak Early Education (formerly Mangrove)
- Almond Branch School
- Vik Academy in Okotoks
Global News confirmed that AHS had sent letters on Sunday to parents of children at multiple Fueling Brains Academy locations informing them that some children had been diagnosed with gastrointestinal (GI) disease, with preliminary lab tests showing E. coli as the cause.
Symptoms of an E. coli infection can include fevers, abdominal pain, vomiting and watery or bloody diarrhea. Severe illness can sometimes require hospitalization.
On Tuesday, Lois Garcia, Fueling Brains Academy’s vice-president of operations, issued a statement offering the academy’s “deepest concerns and empathy” for everyone affected during what she described as a “challenging period.”
Garcia said Alberta Health is providing E. coli testing kits at the New Brighton, West 85th and Braeside schools from noon to 5 p.m. on Tuesday. Fueling Brains also said its Calgary locations are undergoing “deep cleaning,” a process that can take two to seven days.
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“Our heartfelt wishes are with everyone impacted. Our commitment is unwavering in prioritizing the safety and health of our community,” the daycare company’s statement reads.
According to parents, a significant number of children were affected by the outbreak.
Sarah MacDonald, a mom of a boy who attends one of the impacted daycares, said on Thursday her son came home with a bit of a fever.
“The daycare had told us that there was a GI outbreak, so I figured he was probably sick,” MacDonald told Global News. “I gave him some Tylenol, put him to bed. He woke up in the night with diarrhea and the diarrhea just intensified, and he had nonstop diarrhea – like we’re talking every 20 minutes for about 50 hours.”
MacDonald said a stool sample taken at Alberta Children’s Hospital confirmed it was an E. coli infection. Her son was admitted to the Peter Lougheed Centre shortly after.
“He has improved. He’s been on IV fluids, so now he’s going to the washroom maybe once every two hours instead of every 20 minutes, so I’m happy to see that,” she said. “He’s not well. He’s extremely tired and they’re monitoring his blood for signs of a complication called HUS that can happen with E. coli infections.”
Dr. Stephen Freedman, a professor of pediatrics and emergency medicine at the University of Calgary, said bloody diarrhea can be an indicator of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC).
“It’s the toxin that causes damage after the diarrhea or while the diarrhea is starting to resolve. The toxin starts to cause damage to other organ systems, most notably the kidney, which can then lead to further complications,” he said.
Freedman said doctors will do close monitoring of blood tests every 24 hours to look for possible changes in kidney function, hemoglobin and platelets, which can indicate hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS).
“There’s approximately a 10 per cent risk in children under five years of age developing the hemolytic uremic syndrome, whereby they have problems with their kidneys and their blood and they can develop further complications of other organs as well.”
Multiple parents told Global News they had taken their children to the Alberta Children’s Hospital, the Peter Lougheed Centre and the South Health Campus.
Parents said the daycare sent letters to them advising of a GI outbreak and saying it was working with AHS to implement control measures to reduce any further spread of the disease.
The parents said the daycare asked of them that any children experiencing symptoms similar to E. coli infections not return to child-care facilities until they are free of symptoms for two days.
Freedman said medical professionals will know a child is “out of the woods” by around the third day of the blood tests.
MacDonald said there seems to be prevailing theory of the cause of the E. coli infections.
“The kids had meatloaf on Tuesday. We were wondering maybe it was the meatloaf,” MacDonald said.
“We really love this daycare, Fueling Brains. We just want some more answers and we want more communication about this because it’s been a bit sparse.”
According to Health Canada, E. coli bacteria can be spread through contact with infected people, infected animals or contaminated surfaces, foods or liquids.
Freedman said there is a “significant concern” around household transmission, as well, since the “classic” way E. coli is transmitted is fecal-to-oral.
“Daycare handlers, families, household transmission are all very common vehicles of transmission of these types of bacteria because it gets onto a surface from somebody not washing their hands very well and then somebody else touches the surface and puts their hands to their mouth,” Freedman said.