Friday, June 3, 2011

Update on E. coli Outbreak in Germany

Update 7/26/12
Research done by MSU indicates that this strain of E. coli's toxin production is linked to its biofilm formation, and this is the basis for how it affected so many, in this case 3800 people with 54 deaths.

UPDATE 6/7/2011 - A reported 2300 illnesses and 23 deaths now related to E. coli O104 in Germany.  Unfortunately, the cause still eludes investigators.  At first, cucumbers were suggested, and then sprouts.  But there is insufficient evidence to say either is the cause. 

In Germany, a novel strain of E.coli is now responsible for approximately 2000 cases of illness with approximately 500 having HUS (Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome) and has resulted in 19 deaths.  This strain, E. coli O104, is a novel strain that posses the traits of two different pathogenic E.coli. 
·         One is EAEC (Enteroaggregative E. coli) which has the capabilities of “sticking’ to the intestinal lining, and producing a mucoid film that protects it.  EAEC normally results in prolonged diarrheal illness.
·         The other is STEC E. coli that produces a shiga toxin.  The illness is characterized by severe bloody diarrhea and can result in HUS, a life threatening condition that results from the loss of kidney function.
·         Put together, through having genes from both, this organism is extremely pathogenic.  By being able to persist in the intestinal tract longer, there is increased risk for HUS.

The illness appears to have started in Northern Germany.  People have been asked to avoid cucumbers, leafy greens, and raw tomatoes, although the exact source of contamination is not known at this point.

Penn State’s resident expert on EAEC, Dr. Edward Dudley, has supplied some excellent reviews of EAEC. Contact me if interested.

While there is no apparent risk at this time in the US, except perhaps for those that have traveled to Germany in the past month, it is always important to follow good personal hygiene with preparing and handling food.
·         Wash hands thoroughly before preparing food, especially after using the restroom.
·         If you have diarrhea, avoid preparing food.  If you work in a foodservice, retail or food manufacturing facility, stay home.
·         Farmers and gardeners should always practice Good Agricultural Practices, especially when using manure as a fertilizer.  Fertilizers should be properly composted prior to application.

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