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One death likely linked to E. coli outbreak in Edmonton, health officials say

Number of lab-confirmed cases has increased to 34, health authority says

One person has died and 11 others were sent to hospital as Alberta Health Services expands its investigation into the source of a recent outbreak of E. coli in Edmonton.

The number of lab-confirmed cases of E. coli O157:H7 has increased to 34, including 11 patients who required hospital care, AHS said Friday in a news release.

The health authority said it no longer has public health concerns related to Mama Nita's Binalot restaurant, though 21 of the lab-confirmed cases were linked to the restaurant since the E. coli outbreak surfaced in late March.

Nora Romero was diagnosed with E. coli after eating food at the restaurant.

She said she doesn't know the person who died but was shocked to hear the news.

"That's unbelievable," she said. "I feel sorry for the family. Thank God that I passed through that but it was horrible, horrible pain and disgusting and I don't want to go through... that thing ever, ever again."

AHS said it's also investigating 13 lab-confirmed cases that have no known links to that restaurant.

"Although today we do not have a grip on a specific source, we have various leads that we're exploring with rigour," said Dr. Jasmine Hasselback, medical officer of health for the Edmonton zone.

AHS said they believe the latest cases are linked to the initial outbreak.

The health authority didn't provide further details about the male who "died likely due to E. coli infection," but said his case wasn't linked to food from the restaurant.

Hasselback said the risk of illness is low, though the number of confirmed E. coli infections is higher than normal. AHS is working with several partners, including the Public Health Agency of Canada, to find the source of the bacteria.

"When we have this scale of foodborne illness, there's a lot of parties that need to be at the table so that we can find the source as quickly as possible, control it and bring that risk back down to baseline," Hasselback said.

Anyone who has symptoms of E. coli should contact Health Link by dialing 811. The predominant symptom is diarrhea, which may be bloody. In severe forms of the disease, a form of kidney failure can develop.

Symptoms usually start one to 10 days after eating food contaminated with E. coli bacteria. Children, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems are at greater risk of complications from this strain of E. coli, AHS said.

The owners of Mama Nita's Binalot worked closely with the health authority after officials learned that a cluster of people with lab-confirmed illnesses had eaten at the restaurant, AHS said.

"The owners have taken significant steps to manage this issue, including voluntarily closing until AHS was confident the restaurant could reopen without presenting a risk to the public," AHS said.

Public health staff and the restaurant owner and staff have increased safety measures, AHS said, including increased hand washing, food safety re-education for staff, some minor renovations, and closely monitoring food handling practices.

E. coli infections are generally caused when a person eats food or drinks water that is contaminated with human or animal feces, or through direct contact with someone who is sick.