E. coli outbreak in Australia?

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that five people from Newcastle and Tamworth and two from Sydney — including three children — have been diagnosed with Shiga toxigenic E. coli. Four of the sufferers had been seen by GPs and were recovering at home, while the three children were admitted to the Sydney Children’s Hospital at Randwick; one has been discharged.

Jeremy McAnulty, the director of communicable diseases at NSW Health, said yesterday that no link has been found between the seven cases, which were all diagnosed in the past month, but that the disease usually only affected about 15 people a year.

Neither the story nor the NSW Health press release identify the strain of STEC involved; while E. coli O157:H7 is predominant in North America and the U.K., Australia has had bouts of E. coli O111.

The NSW Health press release also notes in its preventative tips,

"cook hamburgers and sausages thoroughly to at least 71 degrees Celsius – although colour alone is not necessarily a good indicator – do not eat them if there is any pink meat inside."

Color (without the u) is a lousy indicator, but the message tries to accommodate the cultural reality that people don’t cook burgers with a thermometer, unlike the Brits, who say colour is an OK indicator.

Finally, the Australians went public based on limited info. That’s OK, and certainly better than the Canadians, who wouldn’t release any public information about 45 people sick with E. coli O157:H7, including one death, over several months this year, until pressured to by the Americans.