New E. coli Strain Found, Antibiotics Could Be to Blame

The United Kingdom’s Telegraph.CO.UK is reporting that a new and mutant strain of an<""> E. coli superbug has been discovered on a dairy farm in Great Britain.

The new version of Escherichia coli—called E. coli O26—seems to have originated as a “direct result of the heavy use of antibiotics on farmyard animals,” said the Telegraph, which noted that the discovery of E. coli O26 is only the newest in a series of food poisoning superbugs that have been discovered “on British farms and in the food chain.”  The Telegraph pointed out that this is the third time that “this type of mutant strain has been found anywhere in the world.”  It seems that, over the past two years, other new E. coli and campylobacter strains have cropped up, said the Telegraph, which pointed out that campylobacter is the most common cause of food poisoning and that the food poisoning infections have been linked with thousands of infections and deaths.

We have long been reporting on infectious disease resistance and how infectious diseases become resistant because of antibiotic overuse and abuse.  When antibiotics are overused or misused, bacteria mutate, changing just enough to ensure the drugs have no effect on them and allowing them a wide berth to spread with increasing power.  Although tempting, preventative antibiotic regimes—in this case by treating the cows’ udders—only worsen the epidemic, strengthening the bacteria.  While new drugs are emerging, it’s just a matter of time before super bugs will become resistant to them, too.

The Telegraph also pointed out that the challenge doctors face is that it is “difficult to find effective treatments when a human becomes infected through food or contact with an animal.”  E. coli—as with other dangerous E. coli strains—can cause serious and sometimes fatal food poisoning that can include “hemorrhagic colitis and hemolytic uremic syndrome,” said the Telegraph.  The piece also explained that cows are “routinely” given antibiotics as a preventative measure to avoid udder infection, but that evidence continues to grow—as has long been reported here in the United States—that antibiotic-resistant bacteria found “in farm animals is being passed on to humans.”

As with E. coli O157:H7, E. coli O26 is a “vera-toxin producing germ,” that has been linked to food poisoning deaths and serious illnesses; however, this is the first time—said the Telegraph—that E. coli has been discovered to have an enhanced antibiotic resistance known as extended-spectrum beta-lactamase (ESBL), in Britain.  The Telegraph also reports that such superbugs affect about 30,000 people in the United Kingdom annually, causing thousands of fatalities from severe urinary-tract and blood-poisoning infections.

E. coli are a group of bacteria found in animal intestines and feces known to cause contaminations in meat, produce, and water and often spread due to shoddy and sloppy slaughtering practices. Of particular concern is the virulent, sometimes deadly E. coli O157:H7 strain that is part of this group and is generally blamed in E. coli outbreaks.  E. coli may cause fatal blood poisoning, cystitis, deadly septicemia, and death. E. coli may cause fatal blood poisoning, cystitis, deadly septicemia, and death.  In the US, E. coli is the leading cause of food-borne illness, sickening about 73,000 and killing 61; last year, over 22 million pounds of beef and vegetables were recalled due to E. coli outbreaks.

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