Fresh produce is now suspected to be the source of an E. coli outbreak that has sickened at least 15 people in northeastern Canada, said a top health official Wednesday.
“Our environmental and epidemiological investigations suggest a common source related to a produce item,” said Dr. Frank Atherton, deputy chief medical officer of health for Nova Scotia in an emailed statement.
Of the 15 E. coli O157:H7 infections known to be linked to the outbreak, 6 occurred in New Brunswick, 5 in Nova Scotia and 4 in Ontario. Five more illnesses in Nova Scotia are suspected to be part of the outbreak. Samples from these patients are currently under analysis at the national microbiology lab in Winnipeg, says Atherton.
For those worried about contracting an infection, health officials say the outbreak appears to be tapering off, and they expect few, if any, new cases. The first confirmed victim fell ill on December 22, 2012, and the number of new cases peaked the following day, according to epidemiological information posted by the federal Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).
“Most cases had onset dates over the Christmas period,” confirmed Atherton. “We are not seeing new cases and so we are hopeful that the outbreak is tapering off.”
While produce has been suspected, Atherton said investigators have yet to pinpoint a specific food.
“At this time, it is still too early to identify a definitive source, and with multiple provinces involved, additional coordination through our federal agencies is also required as part of the overall investigation.”