01/04/2013 09:57 EST | Updated 03/06/2013 05:12 EST

N.S. medical officer of health confirms seven cases of E. coli 0157

HALIFAX - Health officials in Nova Scotia are trying to determine the source of several cases of E. coli 0157 that have hospitalized two people and sickened five others.

Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health, Robert Strang, said Friday that they've had seven confirmed cases of the bacterial infection affecting people ranging in age from their teens to their 80s.

He said the onset of the illness in all of the cases occurred between Dec. 23 and 26 and was spread out across the province, afflicting people in the Truro, New Glasgow, Halifax and Antigonish areas.

"The pattern of the outbreak certainly points to a food product that's been widely distributed," he said.

"We're in the process of working with the restaurants, their wholesalers and manufacturers and working backwards through the food chain."

He said they haven't identified one food source, but suspects it is some kind of produce that would have a limited shelf life because of the concentrated period of the outbreak.

Strang said of the two older people in hospital, one has acute kidney failure but that both are recovering. The others had recovered in their communities, he said.

The office is working with their colleagues in New Brunswick and doing food histories of all those affected to determine if there is a link between five cases that have been reported there.

He said the early indications are that it is a shared outbreak and isn't tied to one particular food outlet since the cases are spread out geographically.

The symptoms of E. coli can include diarrhea, fever, cramping and general unwellness.

Strang said people should be vigilant when it comes to handwashing, food safety and the proper cooking and handling of meats.

The department also recommends that people on private wells have their water tested for bacteria twice a year since E. coli can be spread through water.