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Canadian Authorities Open Criminal Investigation Into Fatal E. Coli OutbreakAired May 26, 2000 - 2:00 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Authorities opened a criminal investigation into what they call Canada's worst E. coli outbreak ever. Five people have died from the bacteria, several children are critical in the farm town of Walkerton. That's northwest of Detroit near the eastern shore of Lake Huron. Town leaders and residents are incensed. Officials say the water works knew the water was contaminated last week, but no one said anything about it for days.
CNN's Dr. Steve Salvatore is in Walkerton this afternoon and joins us now live -- Steve.
DR. STEVE SALVATORE, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: HI, Lou. I'm standing here outside the post office in Walkerton. We're about to hear a press conference, a briefing from the premier of Ontario, Michael Harris. He's here to talk to the media, he's here to talk to the citizens who are outraged.
Five-thousand citizens, Lou, live in this community, and hospital officials say nearly 1,000 people have come with some kind of complaints could be related to the E. coli infection; over 700 definitely. As you said, children are in critical condition and some people have died.
The investigation has gone into three phrases. There's a criminal investigation, there's an environmental investigation, and of course the coroner is going to do an investigation.
We were out here speaking with the environmental minister a few minutes ago. He said they have not yet identified the well where this infection, this E. coli has come from, but they are investigating and they're also investigating to see if any laws were broken, and environmental laws were broken in this case -- Lou.
WATERS: All right, Dr. Steve Salvatore in Walkerton, Ontario this afternoon -- Natalie.
NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: E. coli is usually harmless, but one potent form can be a killer, particularly in children and the elderly.
CNN's medical correspondent Holly Firfer is here for an E. coli fact check: Where does this bug come from and how can it get into our food and water -- Holly. HOLLY FIRFER, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Natalie, basically, scientists first identified the E. coli 0157:H7 bacterial strain in 1982, but it's not known how long the bacteria may have been making people sick before doctors began diagnosing and reporting it. E. coli is found in cows, transmitted to humans; could be through contaminated beef or in manure on the field which, after heavy rains, may run off into the water system.
About 73,000 cases of E. coli are diagnosed every year, but what researchers are not sure of is whether this number has increased dramatically since they first suspected the disease existed.
ALLEN: And if someone were affected by E. coli, what do you do other than be rushed to the hospital? Are there any options or anything people should know?
FIRFER: Well, basically, you should know the symptoms, and I can describe for you the symptoms. You want to look for certain things. You want to look for severe fatigue, bloody diarrhea, vomiting, perhaps nausea, and you want to get to the hospital if you can. If a child or an elderly person or somebody who is, you know, compromised, somebody who has cancer or, say, HIV, needs to be careful. They should go see a doctor and they should be monitored.
If you think you may have been exposed and you're not sure, and if you're a small child or any of the other categories, you may want to go to the doctor and get a blood test because it takes a couple days for it to actually develop the symptoms, so you could be carrying it and not know it. And the sooner they can identify it, the sooner they can help you, the better off you are.
ALLEN: All right, the frightening thing about the situation in Canada, you have 600 people sick, five dead, but they believe that many more will get sick, and maybe more will die.
FIRFER: Absolutely. And, plus, because that area, there were a lot of visitors going through, it was near a tourist town, so they're concerned that people might have contracted E. coli, not come down with the symptoms yet; they travel to the next place and can actually spread the disease. So if you've been in the area too or you suspect that you might have been -- picked it up anywhere, you should go see a doctor and get a blood test.
ALLEN: OK, Holly Firfer, thank you.
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