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E. coli outbreak in Walkerton

Who pays the price?

In May 2000 the small community of Walkerton, Ontario was laid waste by a toxic strain of E. coli:0157. It didn't come from some Victoria Day barbecue, but from their own public water supply.

Six people died in the first week or so, including a two year old daughter of a local medical doctor. Four new cases surfaced again in late July, all of them involved very young children. Over a thousand innocent people were infected.

Within hours of the announcement that there were problems, the skies over this quiet farming town looked like the skies over Los Angeles during O.J.'s slow chase. As the children were airlifted to Children's Hospital of Western Ontario in London with failing kidneys, a sure sign of E. coli:0157, the politicians and medical officer of health launched their own attack and shored up their defenses.

The press arrived by the truckloads, loaded for bear, looking for a human interest story to put on their front pages. It's not always pleasant, but perhaps by having the images of young children, and grieving families splashed on the front pages of almost every major daily in Canada, we were in a way all equal. It could have happened anywhere. The readers of The SUN, the Globe and Mail, or the Owen Sound Sun Times could have been in Walkerton on that fateful weekend. Perhaps some were.

The people who may or may not be culpable are not guilty until proven so. There may more than just a simple explanation for the failures in the system that allowed this to happen. But, right away, the OPP is called in, the names were named, the guilt was implied by the press, the health department, and the townspeople of Walkerton.

Before the first funeral was invaded by intrusive cameras, and pundits passed judgement from on high, the wheels of justice were moving quickly to lay the blame on one man. Then came the marauding parasites, the lawyers, who called press conferences from afar to announce that they will sue for billions, before the corpses were cold, and the gravesites were readied to accept the dead. Each and every one of them had their record of billion dollar lawsuits, like some testosterone snorting Olympic gladiator, ready to do battle in the bloody arena once again.

Little time was spent by the press to address the medical issues, and the stormy battles for the lives of the children and elderly whose lives still hang in the balance. In an area of the Province that has cried out for doctors and medical services for years, come the big guns from Sick Kids to help out in an emergency. As chopper after chopper wisked away the dying babies, toddlers and grannies to far away hospitals, families were left wondering if they would ever see their loved ones again.

The politicians were blamed for privatizing the water monitoring system years ago. The medical officer of health blamed the public utilities commission, the writers blamed everyone.

It really breaks my heart to hear the name calling, to listen to the open line shows, to turn on 1010 or 570 radio and listen to the pundits scream for blood at a time when what is needed is community and family support.

One radio station, CKGL AM-570 in Kitchener raised tens of thousands of dollars and shipped out truckloads of bottled water. Other folks raised money in their churches. Memorial funds were set up through the Bank of Montreal for the victims.

The saga of Walkerton will hopefully be permanently engrained in the memories of all Canadians long after the lawyers and police investigations are completed. It should be remembered not just as a great human tragedy, but as a turning point in the battle to protect the public from harm due to a myriad of mistakes, some of them human perhaps. Most if not all were preventable.

Some will call for a ban on commercial cattle production in the area, and demand that we all eat lima beans, lentils, or tofu. The folks from PETA will dive into the murky waters and seek to ban all experiments that involve therapy for toxigenic E. coli because some animal might die in the process.

Along the way people should not forget that so far 5 people have died, families have been wrenched apart, and that it's not over, till it's over. Let's not lay waste and crucify one man. Many could be responsible, and as the story unfolds we will all learn from Walkerton's tragedy.

Terry Polevoy, M.D.

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  • Latest News - E. coli
  • CKGL AM-570 - Kitchener
  • Award Winning series - The K-W Record
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  • CBC fact sheet on E. coli
  • CBC Cross Country Checkup - May 28
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  • MMWR - CDC Search for E. coli
  • CNN - What the heck is E. coli?

  • Quacks prey on E. coli fears

    • Christine McPhee does it again on The Touch of Health - June 3, 2000 -
      Toronto based quack boosting radio brought "Dr. Oregano" and his magic formula to heal a deadly epidemic across Canada and around the world via RealAudio. The object was to promote oregano oil cocktails to help alleviate the toll taken by a savage E. coli:0157 outbreak. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. It was plainly and simply a sales pitch for an unproved, and untested remedy. It was closer to snake-oil than oil or oregano.

      Christine McPhee regularly has medical and holistic quacks on her radio show. Some of her recent guests have included Len Horowitz, and Tim Bolen. The production company that basically runs her show tries to pretend that her guests are interviewed in a newsy style. But the shows are, for the most part, basically paid infomercials. In other words when she has a guest on her show, the guest usually pays for their portion of the show, or it is subsidized by a sponsor that sells the product that is being endorsed. I can't recall the last time that a major guest didn't have a product or a book to sell, usually linked to a 1-800 number somewhere in Maine, or Florida, or Utah.

      We've seen this done across the country, by many stations, but this little piece with Cass Ingram is beneath contempt. The result of the broadcast is to undermine public health and to defraud the public into believing that a non-practicing "doctor", who would appear to most as nothing more than a carnival barker has the answer to a worried town's fears. He is the "pied piper of Walkerton".

      What McPhee and Mr. Ingram have done is to yell "fire" in a crowded theatre. What they have done is closer to consumer fraud than I have ever witnessed on the radio.

  • Here is a link to the transcript of the first part of McPhee's show provided to us by HealthWatcher.net observers. More to come later.

  • RealAudio of previous Cass Ingram performance on Danielle Lin's show out of Utah - February 19, 2000Please pay particular attention to the actual statements that Cass makes about why he is no longer in practice.

  • What do others think about Cass Ingram?

    Dr. Andrew Weil, the alt. medical guru, somehow doesn't seem to me to be very interested in Ingram's credentials, or his medical claims. Just read what Weil said about one of Ingram's books in 1998. Why didn't he update this review on his website and say that Ingram (Igram) has no valid osteopathic license in Illinois? Why didn't he say that Ingram is a walking infomercial, plain an simple.
  • Dr. Weil reviews Ingram's theories "The Cure Is in the Cupboard" (Knowledge House, 1997) by physician/surgeon Dr. Cass Ingram. Dr. Ingram tells how oil of oregano, given to him by a person who brought it from Europe, saved his life after he contracted a blood-borne fungus from an IV needle."

    Did Weil actually verify what Ingram claimed? Was there any doubt in his mind?

    Book reviews from Amazon.com

  • "The Cure Is in the Cupboard : How to Use Oregano for Better Health"
    A Waste of Money
    April 7, 2000
    Reviewer: Virginia Hall from California
    In my humble opinion this book is a lot of nonsense designed to promote a particular company's herbal products. Here's a clue; the first page contains an offer for, "A free information package on oregano. . .Business opportunities are also available."

    Specifically (on page 7), this author claims that, "The only medicinal grade oregano spice and oil currently available is made by North American Herb and Spice Company. . ." The rest of the book contains extraordinary claims of this special oregano's efficacy against fungi, bacteria, viruses; everything from bad breath to warts!

    At the end there are lists of several other books and taped programs by this same author for sale. This 'book' is nothing but a printed infomercial.

    This book is part of an Infomercial scam.
    January 16, 1999
    Reviewer: A reader from Colo. Spgs., CO

    There is a company (I believe it is the Great American Health Food Co.) that has an Infomercial on local radio at 6 am Saturdays. They try real hard to disguise the show as a real health show, with 'guests', interviews, and fake callers that repeat the 800# (to make sure they wrote it down right). And they use a lot of scare tactics to make people believe they have to have their products, like that we all have fungus in our blood, or everyone is not getting enough nutrition. I tried one of their very expensive products once and was not impressed, but more important I'm concerned that some of the things they sell aren't approved by the government and could be damaging to one's health. Anyways, I had heard on this Infomercial this morning about this book and also they were selling Oregano drops and pills at their 800#. I knew the pills & drops were from this company, but I wanted to see if the book was real, so looked it up. I might have actually purchased it, except that I read in the review that the book states that one can only purchase the Oregano at a special 800#. So this confirms my belief that not only the Infomercial but also this book, is an attempt by this company to deceive customers and try to make their products legitimate. If the products were really good, they would sell without such deception and I find the whole scare tactics and deception process, this company does, disgusting.
  • Talk Radio interview with Danielle Lin - Feb 19, 2000

    Lin's show is an almost carbon copy of the one produced by Christine McPhee, only she gets even bigger quacks on her show all the time. What's more, she keeps their interviews on her site for all to hear.

  • www.daniellelin.com/tunein/

  • On this show, Ingram claims to have quit his practice because of an infection with CMV and a fungus that resulted from a needlestick. He eventually had psoriasis. He also said that his own office staff thought he was incompetent (really, that's what he said).

    He never mentions where he went to medical or osteopathic school, where he practiced, or how long he practiced.

    He says a friend brought him oil of oregano from some mysterious place in the ancient land of the bible, and the rest is history.

    Elin, the hostess of the show, says that Ingram is a medical researcher, an osteopathic physician and has written 12 books. Well, I wonder where she got that kind of information from? Under what name did he write those 12 books?

    Medline Search

    I did a search for "oregano" back to 1966 on Medline, and only found 29 articles in all languages.I didn't find a single article done by anyone named Ingram, or Igram on the subject.

    Medical doctor's complaint

    She takes aim at the producer and radio regulators who allow this kind of crap radio to flourish in our country.

    Copies of this letter will be sent to the chief coroner of Ontario, Dr. James B. Young, and to the RCMP. We are asking that the government charge Cass Ingram for practicing medicine without a license and for defrauding the public. This flim-flam could be considered as much of a medical emergency as the epidemic itself.

    Dear Sir/Madam,

    A segment broadcast today on The Touch of Health featured a shameless "Dr." Cass Ingram blatantly using the current epidemic of E. coli and the resultant human tragedy in Walkerton for the sole purpose of promoting himself and his books.

    "Dr." Ingram's visit to that small Ontario town is an elaborate,offensive contrived public relations stunt. To have Christine McPhee use TALK 640 to support and indeed, to advance this self-serving travesty is morally reprehensible.

    "Dr." Ingram reports that the product that he is promoting through his publications, oil of oregano, is capable of killing bacteria in sewage water and improving the survival of a laboratory mouse infected with an unrelated organism. It has been said that every human malady has been cured in the murine model and Dr. Ingram does not fail to trot out his own rodent example. He is well aware that the information he gave has no bearing whatsoever on the status of bacterial infection in the human body. Unfortunately the citizens of Walkerton and your listeners are not aware of that fact. Numerous times during the interview it was implied that the disaster could have been avoided by the use of oil of oregano. Cruel, manipulative and totally false.

    The interview of the young woman who had lost her grandmother and a neighbour was prearranged, well rehearsed and a disgraceful display of the lack of respect and compassion for those personally affected by this tragedy. Her grief was exploited to hawk the product.

    I am offended and disgusted by "Dr." Ingram's carefully orchestrated marketing presentation. His avarice is appalling. I request that the station and Ms. McPhee be more accurate and socially responsible in future broadcasts.

    Patricia Marchuk MD

  • Search recent Globe and Mail for Walkerton E. coli 'Dr. Oregano' offers up an E coli cure-all
    Globe and Mail - June 2, 2000 Guru of herbal elixirs peddles hope in a bottle to a community searching for answers to contaminated water - By Colin Freeze and Krista Foss - The self-styled ''Dr. Oregano'' says the cure for water woes is in the cupboards of the people of Walkerton.

    This man claims to practice osteopathy and is from Illinois. In that State you have to be licensed by the government to make that claim. Osteopathic physicians are in the same category as medical doctors.

  • He is not licensed as an osteopath in Illinois.
  • This a record of his discipline from the State of Illinois. He surrendered his license in February 1999. You will need Acrobat Reader.

    If Cass Ingram comes to Canada, sponsored by a less than perfect purveyor of snake-oil remedies, this is a slam dunk for charges to be layed that he is practicing medicine here without a license.

    I'd like to see Dr. Oregano's disgarded waste sprinkled on top of a pizza and served to the press for their next tour to the front. The government of Ontario has to not only protect us from bad water, they have to protect us from charlatans and scam artists.

  • Just stick this up your butt and you're free of E. coli - Advertisement in the KW Record, May 31, 2000 - page A14
    Colon Therapy treatments + natural
    intestinal/colon cleansing products
    to remove "bad bacteria"
    Experienced Certified Colon
    Therapist available.
    For appointments/further
    information please phone
    Mrs. Diane Sklar, CCH

    This person identifies herself as a registered nursing assistant, and they are supposed to be regulated in the Province of Ontario. She works with her husband in the upscale uptown Waterloo area, where he does massage therapy, and she cleans people's colons, top to bottom. For her to have the gall to use the E. coli epidemic as an excuse to sell her wares is another reason why this Province has fallen down in its duty to protect the public.

    Here are some references to anyone who is considering colon cleansing or enemas in order to rid themselves of those pesky E. coli critters, or anything else they might have hiding in their colons.

    • www.cnhhc.ica.net/p9.htm - this site makes reference to a naturopath who teaches colon therapy. Can we look forward to enemas in downtown Hamilton if the government in Ottawa goes ahead with the $100 million project to fund naturopathic rubbish like this?
    • www.quackwatch.com/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/gastro.html - Stephen Barrett's article on colon health In 1985, a California judge ruled that colonic irrigation is an invasive medical procedure that may not be performed by chiropractors and the California Health Department's Infectious Disease Branch stated: "The practice of colonic irrigation by chiropractors, physical therapists, or physicians should cease. Colonic irrigation can do no good, only harm." The National Council Against Health Fraud agrees.

  • Food-borne E. coli outbreaks and recalls

    • Kraft Recalls Six Breakstone's and Light N' Lively Cottage Cheese Products Because of Possible Health Risk - June 1, 2000 Kraft Foods is voluntarily recalling one day's production of six BREAKSTONE'S and LIGHT N' LIVELY cottage cheese products because they have the potential to be contaminated with Escherichia coli O157:H7. E. coli O157:H7 causes a diarrheal illness often with bloody stools. Although most healthy adults can recover completely within a week, some people can develop a form of kidney failure called Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS). HUS is most likely to occur in young children and the elderly; the condition can lead to serious kidney damage and even death.

      The six recalled products were distributed nationwide, primarily in states east of the Mississippi. The six recalled products are listed below, all with the date and plant code 06 JUN 00 W appearing on the bottom of the cup:

    Food Safety Resources

    If you have a story to tell about a health scare or problem in your area

    Fax your news clippings to 519-725-4953
    E-mail to: Outbreak

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