Written by by Ryan Lovelace, CNN Mexico City, Mexico
It’s not safe to drink tap water in the city of Guadalajara, Quebec Province, Canada, according to health authorities there. Officials say that more than 1,200 children have now developed symptoms that have been linked to a rare blood-borne virus that causes fevers, joint pain and diarrhea.
The number of children suspected of having the Enterovirus-related respiratory syndrome (EV-19) outbreak has now risen to 1,253, with infections most widely reported in rural areas, Health Canada and the Quebec department of public health said in a statement.
Quebec has previously reported that the situation is evolving “alarmingly” as more cases arise.
“The findings from laboratory testing confirm that the number of cases reported in Quebec province from April 17 to June 13, 2018, is an indication of a serious illness,” said Dr. Christine Côté, Quebec’s deputy health minister.
It’s not known how many children have been hospitalized, but the health department said that the hospitals in Pincourt and Côte-Saint-Luc had identified 264 hospitalized children since March.
“When we compare this number to a typical, non-reactive pediatric illness and when we consider the number of children confirmed to have EV-19, then we have to say this illness is serious,” Dr. Monique Auclair, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Montreal, told the CBC.
Findings from the current water supply contamination investigation will help point to the factors that may be behind the growing cases, and authorities expect the investigation to be completed by the end of June.
As of now, the suspected transmission of EV-19 from water sources to the affected children is an urban-to-rural phenomenon. Because of this, the areas infected so far appear in close proximity, raising the possibility that the virus is spread more easily in densely populated urban areas than in rural regions.
“Quebec authorities expect to continue to see more cases of the EV-19 virus. More children are developing illness related to this virus,” said Stephanie Chow, a federal government spokeswoman.
It has not yet been confirmed whether the water supply contamination originated with the water system itself or caused a leak in a pipe.
Here’s how Canada is helping reduce health risks from Enterovirus D68 in the United States.
According to Health Canada, the current investigation of the contamination involves testing water samples collected by students and staff from different residences at schools in Côte-Saint-Luc, Pincourt and St-Hyacinthe. Health Canada is also testing environmental samples collected from sites affected by the outbreaks.
However, it’s not the first time that concerns over a potentially disease-causing virus have been raised in Canada.
In 2014, concerns were raised about a mysterious illness known as a “foreign body” illness among children in Alberta, Canada, that caused respiratory distress, hallucinations and convulsions. Canadian and U.S. health officials declared the illness had been caused by an acute viral respiratory virus. A 2013 outbreak of a similar illness was linked to a mouse infestation at a school in Ohio.