News of the recent E. coli outbreak affecting numerous daycares in Calgary had one local mom reliving her own nightmare that started less than a year ago.
“My son was totally fine the days leading up to it,” recalls Teagan Rogers, who recently moved from Airdrie to Crossfield. “He just went from a totally happy, healthy, little boy [to having] life-altering issues because of it. It's severe, it's not what people think it is. It can be a lot worse, especially for kids under five.”
Upon receiving a letter about a GI infection outbreak from her sons’ daycare in Airdrie last October, Rogers, along with other parents, didn’t think much of it. The letter stated the sickness should clear up in just 48 hours, but this wasn’t the case.
Several weeks later, her son, Rhett, was sick at home with diarrhea that she thought contained blood. An 811 call assured her that Rhett would get better, but he didn’t.
Upon their own intuition, Rogers and her husband took their son into an emergency room where they waited six hours to be seen.
Thirty hours spent in the ER triage and many tests later, he was admitted to the hospital with a Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) infection.
“I was still in shock. I didn't know where he would've gotten it from, or what it was,” Rogers said. Later, they would find out that multiple kids from Rhett’s daycare also had contracted E. coli and it was declared as an outbreak.
At the time, Rogers believed Rhett would get better from what she thought was really bad food poisoning.
Instead of getting better, his condition only got worse. He soon developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), causing destruction of red blood cells leading to kidney failure.
After that he went into renal failure and his kidneys completely failed. Rogers said the days leading up to when her son needed dialysis were a nightmare –watching him in pain.
“Finally they got the dialysis catheter in and started it, and I thought he would get better,” Rogers said. “I thought he couldn't get any sicker, but he did. They came in and told me he was in liver failure. I was in complete shock because I was like, ‘what is happening with my kid?’”
After a code blue was called for him, meaning a cardiac arrest or medical emergency, they did a CT and MRI. That’s when they found brain damage, Rogers recalled.
“He was really really sick, the doctor told me that it was life threatening and there was nothing we could do,” Rogers said, adding there is no cure for HUS and they had to let it run its course.
Finally, his condition took a turn for the better and he slowly improved. After 34 nights at Alberta Children’s Hospital he returned home, but his kidneys never recovered.
“He has chronic kidney disease because of it and he has brain damage, so we're experiencing developmental delays,” Rogers explained.
Rhett continues to be followed closely at the Children’s Hospital and goes through weekly labs since he was released last year.
While there have been several weeks where he remained stable, even a common cold will send him backwards with his illness, Rogers said.
“Weekly labs have been our life and numerous medications that he's on to keep his numbers somewhat stable,” she said.
Rogers encouraged other parents to ask questions of their childcare provider, and said parents have a right to know where their food comes from, who’s cooking the food, and if it’s supervised.
With E. coli itself, there are signs to look out for like bloody diarrhea, lethargy, stomach cramps, nausea, and vomiting.
“We just need to do better for our kids, have better policies in place and things like this shouldn't be happening, especially in a daycare facility where we trust our care providers and our health system to keep them safe,” Rogers said.
“It's not just a stomach bug, it's not just renal failure, even that is a big nasty thing to have in itself, but it can turn so ugly so fast and I think people need to know that.”
As of Sept. 19, there were a total of 348 lab-confirmed cases connected to the recent Calgary E. coli outbreak. Eight children have been confirmed as having HUS, including two on dialysis, and are receiving care in hospital, down from nine on Sept. 18.
Alberta Health Services stated patients with more severe illness are in stable condition and responding to treatment.
Additionally, there have been a total of 27 lab-confirmed secondary cases. AHS stated some secondary transmission is common and expected in significant outbreaks such as this.
To prevent transmission, Alberta Health Services suggests diligent hand washing if caring for someone with E. coli.
The Alberta government acknowledged the financial burden on families as a result of daycares that have shut down and will provide all families whose child care provider was closed due to the outbreak with a one-time payment of $2,000 per child.
AHS stated it is highly likely the source of the E. coli outbreak among Calgary daycares is food that was distributed from a central kitchen. At this point, AHS has collected food samples for testing and is awaiting results, but they have not identified a food item that was the source.
Airdrie City View called 14 daycares in Airdrie, and despite one daycare declining to comment, each daycare stated they make all of their food in house and that it does not come from a central kitchen.