Yet Another E. coli Outbreak Under Investigation

Canada’s North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit is investigating a possible food borne <"">E. coli outbreak.  Laboratory tests confirm at least one person is ill, with at least 13 other cases under investigation.  “We recommend that anyone who has these symptoms should seek medical attention,” said Dr. Catherine Whiting, medical officer of health with the unit.

E. coli are a group of bacteria found in animal intestines and feces.  Some strains are necessary for digestion; some are harmful, even deadly, such as the very rare and toxin-producing strain E. coli O111 that made headlines in the recent Oklahoma outbreak representing the largest U.S. outbreak of E. coli O111 in history.  Also, of concern is the virulent, sometimes deadly E. coli O157:H7 strain that is generally found to be the culprit in E. coli-related food-borne illness outbreaks.  Both strains are among those E. coli that may cause serious disease and death and are in a group called Verocytotoxigenic E. coli (VTEC) that are linked to food poisoning.  VTECs are very serious and can cause fatal blood poisoning, cystitis, deadly septicemia, and death.  In the US, E. coli is the leading cause of food-borne illness, accounting for about 73,000 infections and 61 deaths; last year, over 22 million pounds of beef and vegetables were recalled due to E. coli outbreaks.

The problem with such food borne contaminations is that the food path is difficult to police because the food-surveillance system is outdated, under-funded, and overwhelmed by the emergence of mega-farms, mega-distribution centers, and mega-transporters.  Couple this with the overarching problem with infectious diseases, which are now becoming more resistant to bacteria because of antibiotic overuse and abuse.

Instances of drug resistant E. coli are being reported world-wide and are similar in path to a mutated staph called MRSA, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus that, when not treated early, is resistant to all but the one antibiotic of last resort.  And, antibiotic resistance has become so pervasive that scientists report having found evidence of drug-repelling E. coli in Arctic birds as remote as the polar ice cap, which adds credence to the notion that antibiotic resistance is global and no region is unscathed.

In addition to the spread of E. coli and the growing resistance of the infection to traditional medications, there is emerging data that the negative health effects of E. coli can remain for months and years later.  It was believed that once we recover from a food-related contamination that we are healed and the illness is gone; however, recent research confirms these illnesses can have long-term, lasting effects that can either linger for months or years or can show up months or years after the original illness.  Researchers found, for example, that some children who suffered severe cases of E. coli developed health problems later in life, such as kidney problems, high blood pressure, and kidney failure; the health problems appeared as late as 10 to 20 years later.

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