Health agency fingers food in E coli outbreak

By Ahmed ElAmin

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags E. coli Escherichia coli

The UK's health protection regulator has pointed the finger at
imported food as the potential source of a deadly E. coli superbug,
which has already killed 83 people in the country.

The report serves as another warning to consumers about the safety of their foods. European consumers have become increasing concerned about food safety, mainly due to the bovine spongiformencephalopathy (BSE) scare in cattle beginning in the late 1980s, a foot and mouth disease outbreak in 2001 and of avian flu in 2003. Consumer concerns have in turn led to tougher regulatory action and increased survelliance of safety in food processing plants. Georgia Duckworth, a researcher at the Health Protection Agency (HPA),said the organisation's survey found an increasing problem of infections caused by multi-drug resistant E. coli bacteria in England. Among the HPA's recommendations was a call for further assessment of the level of resistant E. coli in the gut of the normal population. If its presence is found to be commonplacethen authorities should look at whether the resistant E. coli are prevalent in food, including imported food and especially raw meat. "The findings in our report show evidence of people carrying these bacteria in their gut," she said in her report. "If this is found to be commonplace in the generalpopulation this may point towards the food chain being a potential source. However this area still needs researching." The HPA study team collected reports of blood poisoning caused by E coli submitted voluntarily by hospitals from 1994 onwards. The figures show a rise in the number of infections caused by E colibacteria that are resistant to more than one antibiotic. The agency is now calling for more surveillance by hospitals and doctors. The study focused on E coli bacteria carry enzymes called extended spectrum beta lactamases (ESBLs), which makes them more resistant to antibiotics and makes the infections harder to treat. The HPAidentifies CTX-M-15 and the different strains as the type causing all the problems. This is not the type of E. coli that causes severe food poisoning. E. coli O157 is the type which causes food poisoning and sometimes kidney failure when people eat undercooked meat. The ESBL-producingE. coli are associated with urinary tract infections rather than food poisoning. However the HPA says people may be carrying around the antibiotic resistant bacteria then spread it through the food chain. "There is evidence that ESBL-producing bacteria are carried in faecal matter, which may imply spread via the food chain, thereby producing a reservoir of multi-resistant bacteria in the gutthat may then cause urinary infections in vulnerable patients," the report stated. About 83 hospital patients, most of them elderly, were infected with the antibiotic-resistant bacterium and died over the past two years. Many more cases were admitted to hospital over the sameperiod. The HPA noted the strain of E coli has spread rapidly since 2003, causing infections such as urinary tract infections in hospital patients as well as those treated in the community. The regulator has also published a report on antimicrobial resistance, which examines the use of antibiotics by both the medical and veterinary professions as contributing to the appearance of newantibiotic resistant bacteria. External links to companies or organisations mentioned in this story: Health Protection Agency

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