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Eight children released from hospital after E. coli outbreak at Calgary daycares

Eight children who were severely ill from E. coli infections have been discharged from hospital even as the number of cases related to an outbreak at several Calgary daycares continued to rise.
The Alberta Children's Hospital is shown in Calgary, Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2023. The numbers of E. coli cases linked to an outbreak at several Calgary daycares continue to rise, but doctors say there are fewer patients in hospital with serious complications. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Eight children who were severely ill from E. coli infections have been discharged from hospital even as the number of cases related to an outbreak at several Calgary daycares continued to rise.

There were 329 lab-confirmed cases of the bacterial infection, as of Thursday, related to an outbreak at 11 daycares that was declared Sept. 4.

Investigators were still looking for the source of the outbreak, but health officials have said it almost certainly came from a central kitchen used by the daycares.

Alberta Health Services said in a statement that the number of infected had gone up as test results came back from the lab, but that the number of patients in Alberta Children's Hospital had declined for a second day.

"There are currently 13 patients receiving care in hospital, all of whom are children," the health authority said Thursday. "Eight children have been discharged since yesterday and are now recovering at home."

Twenty patients — 19 children and one adult — have been discharged from hospital since the beginning of the outbreak.

Eleven of the 13 children still in hospital have hemolytic uremic syndrome, a complication affecting the blood and kidneys. Six of those children are receiving dialysis, which is a treatment for kidney failure and a way to remove waste products from the blood.

"We're seeing that the patients on dialysis and even our HUS numbers have been fairly stable," Dr. Tania Principi, section chief of pediatric emergency medicine at Alberta Children's Hospital, told reporters a day earlier. "We're not seeing a significant rise in that, but we're continuing to do tests and follow this last group of patients."

There have been 22 E. coli cases from secondary transmissions, all of whom have been in households linked to the outbreak.

"If we're able to continue to contain that secondary spread, we should be through the largest hump now and see potentially some increase in case numbers … as tests come back," said Principi. "But, in terms of sick children and people, we should be at the tail end."

Parents with children in the daycares linked to the E. coli outbreak sent an open letter Thursday to Premier Danielle Smith asking her to do more to deal with the outbreak.

"Many of our children began falling ill at the end of August," said the letter, which had more than 700 signatures online by Thursday afternoon.

"Many passed not just blood but their own flesh as they screamed in pain, unable to sleep for days while others became lethargic and despondent."

The letter said parents did their best to protect their children by rushing them to emergency departments, but they now need the government to do more.

"We would like to know why we have not heard from you," the letter said. "Surely the suffering of our children merits more communication than a single tweet.

"Lives have been torn apart by what seems to be a preventable crisis."

Sarah MacDonald, one of the parents who put out the letter, said it's about the lack of response from the government.

"We don’t feel that we've been given any answers yet that make us feel safe, that our children are safe back in the system where kitchens are being regulated," she said in an interview.

The premier's press secretary, Sam Blackett, released a statement in response to the letter.

"Premier Smith has made this outbreak her No. 1 priority," he said. "She has heard the heartbreaking stories from parents and rest assured action will be taken."

Blackett said Smith would "have more to say" at a news conference Friday.

Several fundraisers are also in the works to support parents whose children got sick.

"I feel like this could have been any one of us," said Cathy Wang, a Calgary engineer who's organizing a campaign to support families. "I send my older one to daycare every single day, and I expect him to have fun and be safe."

She and nine other parents from affected daycares started a GoFundMe account and are using the money to make meals, buy non-perishable foods and make care packages for the families and goody bags for the children.

Some people have also been dropping off coffee or meals at the Alberta Children's Hospital for parents whose children are still receiving care. 

"It's a difficult time for them because, with their kids this young, they can't leave their bedside," Wang said. "Because they have to stay by their children's side, it means they cannot work."

Meanwhile, the daycares were allowed to reopen Wednesday.

"I want to stress that the closure orders were rescinded only after Alberta Health Services determined that the facilities are safe environments," Dr. Francesco Rizzuti, medical officer of health for Calgary, said at the time.

A spokesman for the daycares said in an email that the well-being of the children, parents and staff remains the priority and that the daycares have had extensive cleaning and sterilization before they reopened.

"We have been in regular communication with our families and staff to ensure reopening requirements are met, along with implementing any changes in our operations and processes that are required," said Kent Hehr, a former member of Parliament who's a vice-president with Fueling Brains.

"All food will be provided by parents or sourced by external providers."

A report released by Alberta Health Services earlier this week said inspectors found improper sanitation, live cockroaches and issues around food handling in the central kitchen for the daycares.

Rizzuti said the kitchen would not be allowed to reopen until the critical health violations are fully addressed. It remained closed Thursday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 14, 2023.

Colette Derworiz and Jamin Mike, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story; An earlier version had the incorrect surname for Sarah MacDonald

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