Six Deaths Attributed to E. Coli

Thursday, July 27th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TORONTO (AP) — Six people died from E. coli bacteria that contaminated the drinking water of a southern Ontario town in May, according to a coroner's report issued Wednesday.

The Ontario chief coroner's office said the outbreak — the worst known E. coli contamination in North America — killed four people and contributed to the deaths of two others, who succumbed to other diseases. The cause of a seventh death could not be determined due to insufficient evidence, the coroner's office said.

First detected by the town's water utility in mid-May, the outbreak sickened an estimated 2,000 people. Walkerton's five schools were closed and the 5,000 residents have been forced to boil or add chlorine to tap water before drinking it, or rely on bottled water.

The coroner's report studied 21 deaths that may have been caused by E. coli, an intestinal bacterium that causes cramps, fever, nausea and diarrhea, and can lead to kidney failure in extreme cases.

It ruled 14 of the deaths were unrelated to the contamination.

Before Wednesday's findings, local officials and media reports had settled on seven as the likely number of deaths caused by the contamination. The seven suspected victims were identified as six older adults and a 2-year-old child.

The coroner's statement Wednesday did not reveal the identities of the six people killed by E. coli. Most of the critically ill from the Walkerton contamination were elderly adults and young children.

Further details were withheld pending the release of the full coroner's report at a public inquiry. The judge conducting the inquiry began a series of informal meetings Wednesday with residents of Walkerton, 90 miles west of Toronto.

A boil order has remained in effect more than two months, and local officials say it will be weeks before tap water is safe to drink. Efforts to flush lingering bacteria out of the town's water pipes revealed the need to replace more than two miles of piping.