Thursday, June 2, 2011


There is nothing new to report on the ongoing outbreak of the deadly E.coli bacteria in Europe. Some experts believe that the number of new illnesses and life-threatening HUS complications (in about 30% of cases) might be slowing down a bit, but opinions seem to differ. So do the statistics. We still don't know the source of the outbreak (now that cucumbers are no longer the definite suspect), but the focus remains on vegetables.

And now everyone is talking about how rare and infectious and deadly this particular strain of E.coli is.

What no one seems to be mentioning is the risk of catching it, not from food, but from someone who is ill. I am talking about person-to-person transmission, or "secondary" illnesses. They can be just as bad. A study published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in March, 2011, on an outbreak of the better-known and more common E.coli 0157:H7 in Scotland, found that about 11% of cases were secondary. Another study of a 2006 U.S. outbreak of the bacteria associated with spinach estimated that 12% were secondary. So, conservatively, let's say at least around 10% of cases of these deadly illnesses are likely to occur as a result of contact with someone who is ill - usually a relative or close friend. Since this particular E.coli bacterium is especially virulent, the rate of secondary infections could well be much higher. Well, what are we doing to prevent these cases? And, is the public being warned to be careful?

Of course, the basics of preventing person-to-person transmission of this bacteria, as with any other, are pretty simple. The usual route for infection is fecal-oral. Most of it boils down to using good personal hygiene. But remember too that care should be applied to touching the clothing or bedding of someone who is ill, and in cleaning the bathroom they have used. Disposable rubber gloves, which are available in most urban areas, can be very useful.

What most people don't know is that someone can have an infection and not show symptoms, and, that someone who is ill can be contagious for a few days after all symptoms have disappeared. In some cases, much longer.

Be careful.

To your good health!

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