In the last few days, those of us in the UK and Europe would have seen the headlines regarding the E Coli outbreak in Germany caused by infected cucumbers.
(Update 6/6/11 a mix of sprouted seeds, which are used in salads and includes lentils, alfalfa seeds, fenugreek and adzuki beans, could be the cause of the E. coli outbreak, although there is currently no laboratory evidence to support this link.)
Unfortunately it has been reported that hundreds of people have fallen sick, of whom a much smaller number have died. Understandably this is quite worrying, although sensationalist media headlines have played an important role in fuelling excessive levels of panic. I included the cartoon above as many of you may be feeling like the little boy it features. I have also been providing bits of information about E Coli via twitter and facebook. However I decided it may be useful to do a summary blog post which includes links to websites that I know contain correct information. Why? Because although I am a princess, public health is in fact my day job!
What is E Coli?E coli is a type of bacteria that is commonly found in the gut of humans and animals. There are many different types of E coli, some of which live harmlessly in the gut (actually most of us carry the harmless strains). Others unfortunately can cause a variety of diseases (see next section for VTEC E coli). The bacteria can be found in faeces and can survive for extended periods in the environment.
What is VTEC or E coli 0157?The bad E coli tends to be the VTEC strains. VTEC is short for Vero cytotoxin producing E coli. The most common type in the UK is 0157. The one causing the outbreak in Germany is 0104 (which is rare in the UK). They cause infection from mild diarrhoea to serious inflammation of the gut (severe abdominal pain and bloody diarrhoea). A small percentage of people (2-7%), usually children or the elderly will develop a very serious condition called Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS) that can result in kidney failure. This condition is life threatening and can develop between 2 and 14 days after diarrhoea begins.
Another important fact is that very small numbers of the bacteria can cause disease. This makes it very infectious and so the disease can spread easily within families, in schools, nursing homes, hospitals etc.
What are the symptoms?
- diarrhoea (about 50% of people will have bloody diarrhoea)
- abdominal cramps
How can I become infected?
- eating contaminated food
- drinking contaminated water or water that has not been properly treated
- swimming or playing in contaminated water like streams or ponds
- contact with infected animals directly or with animal poo (farms, campsites, petting farms)
- contact with other people with the illness
How can I avoid becoming infected?This is definitely an example where prevention is better than cure! There is no specific treatment for VTEC infection and in most cases the infection will clear within a week. Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration, avoid tea, coffee or fizzy drinks. Paracetamol is useful for pain relief. Antibiotics are NOT recommended as they can worsen complications. It is important to note that some people continue to shed the bacteria for a couple of weeks.
It is very important to practise basic hygiene such as
- washing your hands regularly with soap after using the toilet
- cleaning hard surfaces with disinfectant
- cooking all minced meat products properly
- avoid contact between raw and cooked meats
- thoroughly washing ALL salad and vegetables that will be eaten RAW
- not preparing salads using the same utensils used for raw meat
- eating and drinking pasteurised dairy products
- boiling drinking water if unsure of the source
- not swimming in water that may be contaminated with sheep or cattle poo
If you want to know more, I recommend the following sites
- Facts about E coli- NHS Choices
- Health Protection Agency- Advice for patients or carers with E coli
- CDC E Coli
I hope you find the information useful. Let me know if you have any questions or if there is anything confusing in the comments. Enjoy your bank holiday and remember to eat your vegetables!
|Vegetables are still good for you! But wash them first!|