Four Calgary daycares that were closed as part of an E. coli outbreak that includes 231 lab-confirmed cases have reopened, a week after the outbreak was first confirmed by Alberta Health Services (AHS).
On Monday, an AHS spokesperson confirmed 41 more cases had been linked to the outbreak in the past day.
The provincial health authority said there are now 26 patients in hospital: 25 children and one adult.
Since the outbreak was declared at the start of last week, 11 patients have been discharged from hospital.
As well, 21 children have been diagnosed with hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a severe complication of the kidneys and other organs.
“They are stable and receiving the appropriate care in hospital,” AHS said.
‘Roller coaster’ to reopening
Almond Branch School, Little Oaks Early Education (formerly Mangrove), Fueling Brains Academy Bridgeland and Braineer Academy were all allowed to reopen their doors after AHS determined no lab-confirmed cases of E. coli were connected to their locations.
“It was very shocking. Over the course of last week, it was quite a roller coaster,” Hoyt Hangtian She, Braineer co-founder and co-owner, said.
The co-owner said he got a call from an AHS officer on the evening of Sept. 2, verifying his identity and connection with the daycare.
He was then told he was part of a swath of closures of 11 daycares linked to a central kitchen that Calgary Zone medical officer officer of health Dr. Franco Rizzuti previously said was “out of an abundance of caution.”
The Braineer co-owner said he and his team communicated with parents on a daily basis, to keep them updated on items like a thorough sanitization of the facility, an AHS inspection, whether any cases had been linked to Braineer and an anticipated open date.
“Fortunately, towards the end of the week, we realized that no one from our centre was tested positive. And we feel fortunate on that front,” She said. “I’m also very saddened by the fact that there are 190 children who are currently sick.”
She said the AHS inspectors were satisfied with Braineer’s food handling practices during the inspection.
“These are the things that we follow strictly and then we still got into this kind of incident,” he said.
“It was really just quite a bit disheartening of feeling like a victim in general.”
The co-owner said he’s glad to see kids back at Braineer, who said they “seem happy and healthy.” He also said the parents seem happier than they did last week.
Braineer is using a “transitional period” of only serving packaged snacks, using disposable plates and cutlery, and asking parents to pack lunches for their children.
The Braineer co-owner said they’re not sure whether they’ll be returning to the services of Fueling Minds, the catering kitchen they were using previously.
“It will take us some time to figure out what is the safest and the most nutritious way to cater for the kids and also make sure it’s convenient for the parents,” She said.
“We haven’t heard from (Fueling Minds) so far and we don’t even know what’s going on.”
‘A complete nightmare’ without answers
Alexander Zam, three, was one of the children at a daycare that was infected by the Shiga toxin-producing E. coli. He’d been attending the daycare for years.
Zam’s father Ryan said the three-year-old was “feeling uncomfortable” on Sept. 3 and by that evening had bloody diarrhea.
At the time Alexander was showing tell-tale symptoms of an E. coli infection, the Zam family received an email from Fueling Brains Academy with advice to take their child to hospital with those symptoms. The next day, stool tests showed Alexander was infected by the bacterium.
“It was a complete nightmare from Sunday night (Sept. 3) all the way until probably Saturday when we finally got the bloodwork that he was no longer at risk of developing HUS or that he wasn’t going to be prolonged stay in the hospital,” Ryan said.
AHS said it is “highly likely” the outbreak’s source was distributed from a central kitchen and while it hasn’t been able to identify the food item that was the source, it continues to investigates.
When Alexander will return to daycare is still in question, but he does have to meet some criteria.
“We were told by the doctors it could be up to 30 days before the E. coli leaves the system. So we need two negative E.coli tests before he’s allowed at any child-care facility,” Ryan said.
But Ryan said the communication about a gastrointestinal bug going around Fueling Brains locations lacked detail and frequency.
“The daycare emails were kind of sporadic. Initially, we weren’t really hearing much of anything and everything was vague,” he said.
“Yesterday… was the first time that the daycare was actually called to check on how our son is doing. We missed the phone call. It was a voicemail.
“It probably wouldn’t have been very good if we would have gotten it.”
A visit from Alexander’s cousin also turned out to have secondary effects.
“(Our nephew) was playing with our son and we had obviously no idea about the E. coli and found out a couple of days ago that he was developing symptoms and now has to go in and out of the hospital, the same as our son did,” Ryan said.
Dr. Ted Steiner, an infectious diseases physician in Vancouver, said E. coli can be spread easily.
“You don’t need a lot of bacteria in order to get sick and what that means is it can actually spread from person to person,” Steiner told Global News.
Ryan said he had “numerous fits” of anger over the entire situation.
“On the 5th of September, I actually emailed the premier’s office to let them know about this and what was going on, and got an email back on Sept. 6 saying that they had received it and it was being forwarded to the Minister of Children and Family Services,” he said.
Premier Danielle Smith and Health Minister Adriana LaGrange offered their “thoughts and prayers” to the children and families affected by the outbreak via social media on Sunday.
“The fact that it took until the 10th of September to hear anything, I think, is a little bit ridiculous.”
Ryan wants to see an inquiry into the cause of the outbreak.
Smith said she asked for a “full assessment” of the outbreak from LaGrange and Children and Family Services Minister Searle Turton “to prevent this from happening in the future.”
LaGrange, Turton, chief medical officer of health Dr. Mark Joffe and Dr. Tania Principi, the section chief of pediatric emergency medicine at Alberta Children’s Hospital, will provide an update on the outbreak Tuesday at 9 a.m.
Ryan said any light shed on the outbreak can help him, like other parents, decide on next steps for his child.
“I want to know if we were to send our child back there or send our child to any other daycare facility, that this isn’t going to happen again,” he said.
The eight other daycares that were closed as part of the outbreak will be allowed to reopen on Tuesday, but anyone who tested positive as part of the outbreak will require two negative tests to return to the daycares.
“The wait lists for daycares to get a child in is over a year for some places. And I imagine now with everything that’s gone on, that list has probably only gone up,” Ryan said.
“We may be forced to just have him go back, which is terrifying.”