Viewpoint: E. coli outbreak in Germany

Dr Hannah Levis, Reader in Ophthalmic Bioengineering, Eye & Vision Sciences

Dr Paul Wigley, from the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Infection and Global Health, said: “The E. coli outbreak associated with cucumbers and other vegetables in Germany has been caused by a type of the bug called 0104. This is part of the group of E .coli bacteria called VTEC or verocytotoxin producing E. coli which includes the more common O157 form that were responsible for fatal disease outbreaks in Wales and Scotland and with the outbreak at Godstone Farm, Surrey in 2009.

“VTEC normally infect people directly through animal faeces, or more usually through poorly cooked meat contaminated with the bacteria. Whilst most strains of E. coli do not cause disease, VTEC are able to attach to the wall of the intestines very tightly and produces toxins. It is these toxins that cause damage to the gut leading to bloody diarrhoea and may cause damage throughout the body including the kidneys.

“The most serious consequence of infection is Haemolytic Uraemic Syndrome (HUS) that frequently leads to kidney failure resulting in the need for kidney dialysis or sometimes death. Animals, and in particular cattle, may carry VTEC in their intestines without disease which may lead to the bacterium being shed in their faeces.

“It is most likely that the use of manure as a fertilizer in organic salad vegetable production has lead to contamination of cucumbers and other vegetables. Although E. coli infection is most commonly associated with meat, there have been previous reports of the disease being contracted from raw vegetables.

“Consumers should follow the advice of the Heath Protection Agency and ensure good hygiene practice in the kitchen and thoroughly wash all salad vegetables and fruit before eating.”

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