Friday, June 3, 2011


The outbreak of toxic E.coli continues to create illnesses and panic in Europe. The latest genetic testing by a collaborating Chinese laboratory shows it to be a new strain - or, at least, a previously unidentified strain of E.coli. Yes, it is related to E.coli 0104 (about 80%) but the other 20% of the genetic composition comes from another very toxic bacterium. The closest thing we know to it is apparently a strain known as EAEC 55989 that causes very serious illness in the Central African Republic.

The experts are saying this strain of E.coli has never caused any illness in the United States. I think that conclusion is premature. How can we know we haven't had such incidents if laboratories do not test for them? Most laboratories only do serological typing for the more common E.coli 0157:H7, which crops up with some regularity in the North American food supply, with no testing for the other 2000 or so E.coli strains.
Remember the case of E.coli 0145 in a bag of Dole Baby Spinach in 2006 (and in Safeway lettuce in 2010)? The New York laboratory that found it was one of the few in the U.S. which tested for this strain. If the sample had been sent to another U.S. laboratory, the chances are that it would not have been identified. And if you were ill with E.coli 0104 and the sample was sent to a U.S. laboratory, the chances are that it would not have been identified either.

Let's not say the bacterium has never occurred in the U.S. Let's just say it hasn't been identified. It could have turned up, but simply been relegated to the cold case files of food borne illness.

To your good health.

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