Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Three local listeria cases, one death confirmed

At least one person within the jurisdiction of the Porcupine Health Unit (PHU) has died and the death is linked to the current outbreak of listeria, The Timmins Times learned exclusively on Tuesday.
Bob Bell, the manager of public health inspection for the PHU, says the official cause of death has not been determined.
“We have three cases of listeria,” Bell confirmed on Tuesday. He says information is passed to the health unit from the Ontario ministry of health. The health unit then investigates all the details surrounding the disease.
The first local case, Bell says, was indeed listeria, but it was not linked to the outbreak, because it is a different “strain” of listeria than the one linked the current outbreak involving the Maple Leaf Foods plant in Toronto.
In the second case, Bell says the health unit is waiting for more test results.
“The initial test was positive for listeria. It’s going through the additional testing to determine what family grouping or strain that it falls into,” he said.
“The third is the same strain linked to the outbreak, with that third strain, that was the strain that was linked to a death in our region,” Bell told The Times.
“There was a death. It is linked to the outbreak. But we cannot say it is the cause of death,” said Bell.
He said the final word on that will have to come from a medical examiner or the coroner.
It was not revealed at press time Tuesday whether a post-mortem examination was to be carried out.
There is no official information on the identity of the deceased person. The Times has learned that she was an older woman who was brought to Timmins and District Hospital, where she died. The Timmins and District Hospital said Tuesday a formal statement will likely be issued today (Wednesday) outlining details of the next steps in the case.
Bell says inspectors from the health unit do a follow up in every case where listeria was identified, to try to find out what foods where eaten, where the food was purchased and whether the patient is involved in a job where food-handling is part of the work.
Bell admits that it is a long and tedious process, considering that the incubation period for listeria can be as long as 70 days. Symptoms include headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and a persistent fever according to information on the Health Canada website.
He says health unit inspectors are also working hand in hand with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and other health agencies to ensure they remove any and all samples of tainted meats identified with the Maple Leaf Foods outbreak that was revealed one week ago.
Bell says the health unit has joined with other agencies in urging consumers not to consume any meats that they’re not sure of. “If you’re in doubt, you throw it out,” he said.
He says an easy way to determine the safety of the meat is to look for the batch number involved in the Maple Leaf Foods case. There will be a meat inspection stamp with a crown on the package, with a number. The number is 97B. Bell says consumers can also check the “best before” date, which will also have a batch indicator.
“There will be the best before date and the word ‘Est’, short for establishment and there will be a number there. And 97B is the identifying number for the plant where that product was produced,” said Bell.
Bell says consumers may choose to bring any meats back to the store where they bought it or simply toss the meat in the garbage. Bell admitted in some cases, it may mean losing a few dollars worth of groceries but it is nowhere near the value of one’s continued good health.

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