Escherichia Coli (or commonly referred to as E-coli) like any other bacterias or viruses is known to have different strains. Enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC) - a strain of E. coli that causes haemorrhage in the intestines is one of the most dangerous.
E-coli can spread from contaminated beef (including mince beef, also called ground beef), manufactured products containing pork or deer, unpasteurised milk and juices (including cider), dairy products made from unpasteurised milk, sprouts (Current source of German Outbreak), lettuce, fermented meat (including salami), as well as contaminated water (Secondary contamination) – from untreated water (Ontario, Canada 2000) and ingestion of water while swimming in lac or pool for example – and also from petting animals in Zoos or animal exhibits.
In June 2011, an E-coli strain was responsible for a new outbreak in France (on average, nationally, 70 cases are listed every year), found in frozen mince beef patty (beef burgers) made in Germany (‘Steaks Country’ brand sold in Lidl Supermarket). However, it is believed that the strain is different from the one responsible for already 40 deaths in Germany alone. The strain found in Germany is believed to be a newly discovered strain.
E-coli is indeed a bacteria that cannot be stopped once it has spread (see picture above).
Symptoms are stomach cramping, vomiting, bloody diarrhoea (between 3 to 7days after ingestion), and there may be no fever. The infection can cause Haemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS), destroying red blood cells. It can then lead to kidney failure especially in children and elderly. Complication can be fatal in 5% of cases.
Escherichia Coli bacteria belong to the Enterobacteriaceae family, a group of bacteria commonly found in the intestinal flora of warm-blooded animals and humans, in most case non-pathogenic. However, the E-coli (EHEC) is very dangerous and complication of infection from EHEC can be fatal to human especially to children under 3 years old – the organism produces Shiga Toxin that damages bowel tissue.
20-80% of healthy cattle farming is believed to live with E-coli strain EHEC without any symptoms. Once brought to the abattoir all cattle leather is thoroughly cleaned to avoid contamination to muscle (meat). There are a lot of regulations in place in order to avoid accident; however, accident may happen. During the evisceration, it may happen that stool touches the meat (intestine burst opened for example) and a chain of reactions begins. François-Xavier, Head of the National Centre of Referencing of Escherichia Coli at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, explain that “it is then a succession of bad luck” that creates an outbreak.
It is important to notice that most adults have strong enough digestive system to kill E-coli after ingestion; however, children and elderly may be more vulnerable, especially children under the age of 3 (the most common cases).
The most important barrier to spread is washing hand thoroughly before cooking and eating, after touching pets and going to the toilets (you may be shocked – and terrified – if you knew the percentage of people not washing their hands after going to the toilets).
Wash fruits and vegetables before eating (see ‘E-coli and Organic Farming‘ article).
Boil raw or unpasteurised milk before drinking.
Cook thoroughly beef burgers (meat should be brown inside) and other manufactured meat products (especially, if to be eaten by a child under 3 years old).
Antibiotics should not be given to fight the infection as it will generate the release of more toxins.
Treatments may be re-hydration, dialyses and blood transfusion in most severe cases.
McGraw-Hill Concise Dictionary of Modern Medicine
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