Calgary daycare centers linked to E. coli outbreak are reopening

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CALGARY — Calgary daycare centers linked to an E. coli outbreak could reopen early next week, as some parents whose children were infected consider a possible class-action lawsuit.

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Alberta Health Services says there are 142 lab-confirmed cases of E. coli – up from 128 a day earlier – linked to an outbreak at up to 11 child care centers in Calgary.

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Dr. Francesco Rizzuti, Calgary’s medical officer of health, said four of those 11 locations have had no E. coli cases reported and they are expected to reopen Monday if this continues.

“I want to emphasize that the health and safety of children and staff is our absolute priority,” he told reporters at a news conference on Friday.

“Facilities will only reopen when we are confident that health and safety will not be compromised.”

Rizzuti said the remaining seven facilities could reopen Tuesday, but all children and staff would have to provide proof of a negative test before they could return. They are also not allowed to visit other childcare facilities, he added.

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A total of 26 patients are being treated in two hospitals in Calgary and five have already been discharged.

Eleven of the hospitalized patients are seriously ill, Rizzuti said, and a “small number” are receiving dialysis.

“Currently, all children in inpatient wards are stable,” he said, noting that AHS has introduced additional dialysis machines, vital sign monitors and infusion pumps.

“Staff work hard to ensure all patients receive the care they need,” he said.

Dr. Stephen Freedman, an emergency physician at Alberta Children’s Hospital and professor at the University of Calgary Cumming School of Medicine, said it’s been a chaotic week.

He said E. coli is not a typical strain that causes watery diarrhea, vomiting or abdominal cramps for two or three days. It is a type of E. coli 0157 that secretes a toxin that can cause organ damage.

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Freedman said about 20 percent of children develop hemolytic uremic syndrome, a condition that affects the kidneys and causes blood clots.

“We are seeing some HUS cases,” he said. “The typical course is that children have severe abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting and sometimes dehydration early on.”

Some of the infected children are being treated as outpatients in clinics set up in hospitals across the city.

The medical updates come as a Calgary lawyer said she is preparing a possible class-action lawsuit on behalf of the families.

Maia Tomljanovic, who has worked on similar cases in the past, said she has spoken to dozens of parents whose children have been infected and she knows there are many others.

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She said class action lawsuits often arise in such cases because of the large number of plaintiffs.

“It can be very difficult for the courts to process the numerous individual claims at the same time,” she said.

Tomljanovic said they are still in the early stages of potentially filing a lawsuit.

She said it would take years to fight a legal battle and that most parents are currently focused on their children’s health.

Parent John Greenbow said his 2-year-old son, Emmett, was infected with E. coli at one of the Fueling Brains locations, but the toddler did not need to be hospitalized.

“Right now we’re seeing some elevated platelet counts and some blood in my son’s urine … so signs that his kidneys are fighting the toxicity caused by this particular E. coli bacteria,” he said.

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“We are of course taking it seriously, but at this point he has not yet been admitted for dialysis.”

Greenbow said he would consider legal action once his son recovers.

Lorian Hardcastle, an assistant professor at the University of Calgary’s law school who specializes in health law and policy, said a negligence claim against either the daycare or food provider would require two elements “other than the injury we have.” .

Any lawsuit, she said, would have to be proven that they were not meeting the standard of care.

“Failure to adhere to Alberta Health Services food handling standards would be evidence of non-compliance with standards of care,” she said. “We don’t know if that happened here.

“Often you come to the conclusion that because of an injury, someone must have done something unreasonable. The fact is, however, that even if food is handled correctly, 100 percent elimination of all bacteria can never be achieved.”

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The second thing a lawyer would need to present in a negligence lawsuit would be proof that the injury was actually caused, she said.

“Not only do you have to be able to show that you didn’t do x, but you also have to be able to show that you got sick if you didn’t do x,” Hardcastle said.

“The fact that there were so many children supports that argument.”

She noted that a lawsuit may not result in significant damages, in part because Canada’s health care system is publicly funded and parents would not incur large out-of-pocket costs.

“They could potentially still seek damages for obvious pain and suffering,” she said.

“And if some of the children have the associated long-term kidney problems, there is certainly potential harm that needs to be addressed.”

Hardcastle said it was possible that all standards were being met but contaminants were still getting into the food.

“It could be a long time before we know,” she said.

Health officials said they were still trying to determine the cause of the outbreak but had not yet pinpointed it.

– With files from Jamin Mike in Edmonton.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on September 8, 2023.

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