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E. coli Outbreak Continues

by Sue Hubbard, M.D.

I was on the treadmill this morning simultaneously watching a plethora of channels on the flat screens TV’s at the gym. One of the headlines at the bottom of the MSNBC screen caught my eye as it read, “deadly virus spreading across Europe”, while the next headline read, “e. coli continues to spread in Europe.”

Unfortunately, there does continue to be concern over the deadly BACTERIA that has been spreading across Germany and has caused illness in at least 10 other European countries as well as several cases in the United States. But the concern is not due to a virus, but a bacterial infection!  Viruses and bacteria essentially have nothing to do with one another except that they can both cause illness.

The bacteria, a new strain of Escherichia coli (E.coli), have caused an outbreak of diarrheal disease with over 2,900 people being infected. Of these, over 500 have suffered life-threatening complications, and there have been 30 deaths reported.

The sickest patients have developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a kidney disease which may result in renal failure. It seems that this “new” bacteria has caused the most serious illness among previously healthy women, including those that are pregnant. This is unusual as it is typically thought that children and elderly have more serious complications from hemorrhagic E.coli strains. Several of the cases of this specific type of E.coli have been reported in the U.S., with all persons except one having had recent travel to Germany.

E. coli is a bacteria that had long been known to cause food borne gastroenteritis (vomiting and diarrhea). The bacteria may be found in fecal material and then may be spread via food that has been contaminated.  It was just announced that the most likely source of this E.coli infection is not cucumbers as was previously suspected, but rather by contaminated bean sprouts. The initial source of infection looks to be from a farm worker who has tested positive for E.coli and is thought to have spread the bacteria while working.

The mainstay for preventing any food-borne illness is HANDWASHING!!  It is also important to thoroughly wash fruits and vegetables, especially those that are eaten without being cooked.  Peeling the produce is also a way of helping to prevent disease.

The WHO and also the CDC have put U.S. doctors on alert for this disease. If you or your children develop bloody diarrhea it is important that you seek medical care, and if possible have a stool specimen available for your doctor.

In the meantime, have your children practice good hand washing, especially after using the bathroom!  Remember, this is a bacterial rather than a viral infection. There is a difference.

That’s your daily dose for today. We’ll chat again tomorrow.

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