E. coli outbreak at childcare facility in mid-west Ireland

The Department of Public Health in the Mid-West is handling an E.coli outbreak at a childcare facility and is reminding the public of the danger this bacteria can pose. 

Verotoxigenic E. coli (VTec) is a powerful strain of E.coli bacterium that lives in the gut of healthy cattle and sheep and can cause serious illness in the elderly and in children aged under five. 

The Mid-West public health department said the outbreak was under control but the incidence highlights the importance of hand hygiene and proper water treatment. 

VTec can be a source of food poisoning and can cause bowel inflammation leading to bloody diarrhea and severe stomach cramps. 

A specialist in public health said Ireland had one of the highest incidence rates of VTec in Europe and that the Mid-West region has one of the highest reported rates in the country. 

It underpins the importance of hand hygiene before and after preparing food, after contact with farm animals and their environment, and effective treatment and rehabilitation of private wells. 

Irish childcare facility closed due to E. coli outbreak

A childcare facility in county Cavan will remain closed until the area is cleaned following an outbreak of verotoxigenic E. coli.

HSE-300x162The Health Service Executive says that they were notified of a case of E. coli in a child at the facility in county Cavan. It followed a confirmed case of a similar infection in another attendee at the same facility back in April. The HSE was notified of the latest case of E. coli in a child at this facility over three weeks ago. It followed a confirmed case of a similar infection in another attendee at the same childcare facility back in April. The Health Service Executive says no source was identified for the infection in the previous case.

STEC contaminates a third of private wells in Ireland

It’s estimated that 30 per cent of private wells in Ireland are contaminated with E. coli arising from animal and human waste.

Meanwhile, a report by the Health Service Executive (HSE) has found that there is a growing number of VTEC – a particularly nasty form of E. coli.

Analysis shows that Ireland has the highest incidence of  verotoxigenic E. coli, VTEC, or shiga-toxin producing E. coli, in Europe. Since 2011, the HSE has reported a doubling of the number of VTEC cases in Ireland from 284 in 2011, 554 in 2012 and 704 in 2013.

People treated for VTEC are four times more likely to have consumed untreated water from a private well. 

VTEC infection is most common in children and in up to 8 per cent of cases patients go on to develop serious kidney complications.

“These can, on rare occasions, prove fatal.  This is all preventable,” said Dr Una Fallon, Public Health Specialist in the HSE and Chair of the HSE National Drinking Water Group.

The EPA says rural families in Ireland are commonly affected and much of this is because of contaminated private wells. Consumers of water from private wells at much greater risk of VTEC than those who drink water from mains supplies, they said.

“It can take a long time for the bug to clear even after the child has become well,” said the EPA.

The EPA estimate that 50,000 private wells in Ireland are contaminated with human or animal waste which can cause significant threat to people’s health.

David Flynn, Programme Manager for the EPA said that ”people assume that because their water comes from a well or a spring that it’s completely pure and safe to drink, but that is not necessarily the case”.

“Sometimes, we find that people can develop immunity themselves, but visitors to the house, particularly children and the elderly are at risk of getting very sick,” he said.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have said that people have to do more to protect their well from contamination and have developed a new assessment tool ‘Protect your Well’.


Beam me up: renewed calls for beef irradiation in Canada

Reynold Bergen, science director of the Beef Cattle Research Council, writes that irradiation has been used to pasteurize astronauts’ food since 1966.

Irradiation is also approved as a food safety treatment in over 50 countries back here on earth. For example, France, Belgium and the Netherlands use irradiation to combat foodborne pathogens in frogs’ legs, seafood, and poultry.  The U.S. has approved irradiation of meat. Canada has approved irradiation for spices, seasonings, flour, onions and seed Irradiation-beef-Cattlemens-Association-Canada-ionizing-radiation-Ecoli-bacteria-pathogens-EDIWeeklypotatoes, but not meat or poultry. Irradiation is safe for human food use at doses more than eight times higher than those approved for meat in the U.S. Irradiation does not cause the meat to become radioactive, and has less of an effect on food nutrients than cooking does, but irradiation can have undesirable effects on flavour or colour under some conditions.

Dr. Rick Holley at the University of Manitoba recently published two papers from research funded under Canada’s Beef Science Cluster.

One paper (Meat Science 96:413-418) examined whether a low dose (one kGy) of non-radioactive, ionizing electron-beam irradiation can eliminate verotoxigenic E. coli (VTEC) and salmonella from beef trim.

VTEC, also known as Shiga toxin-producing E. coli or STEC, are E. coli that can cause illness in humans. E. coli O157:H7 is one of about 200 serotypes of VTEC. More than a third of VTEC-related illnesses in humans are also caused by non-O157 serotypes such as the “top 6” E. coli O26, O45, O103, O113, O111, O121 and O145. Salmonella is relatively uncommon in beef, but is more irradiation resistant than E. coli because salmonella is better at repairing DNA damaged by irradiation.

The second paper (Journal of Food Science 78:920-925) examined whether e-beam irradiation of beef trim affects the colour, aroma, texture, juiciness or flavour of beef patties.

Over 30 different VTEC (including E. coli O157:H7 and the “top 6” non-O157 VTECs), and six different salmonella serovars were screened for resistance to the one-kGy e-beam. Twelve of these bacteria were then pooled in four groups to test for survivors on beef. Fresh muscle pieces (outside flat, inside round, brisket, and sirloin) were separately inoculated Unknownwith either 1,000 bacteria/gram or 10 million/g of each of the four bacterial mixtures. These numbers are up to a million times higher than would normally be found in beef. The inoculated beef was exposed to a one-kGy e-beam. Surviving bacteria were recovered and counted during storage at 4 C for up to five days. Inoculated muscle pieces were also pre-treated with five per cent lactic acid before being frozen and exposed to the e-beam.

For sensory tests, the same types of fresh muscle pieces (but not inoculated with bacteria) were treated with the one-kGy e-beam. Fresh ground beef patties (10, 20 or 30 per cent fat) were separately formulated with zero, 10, 20, 50 or 100 per cent lean beef treated with the one-kGy e-beam, cooked and evaluated by a similar panel for colour, aroma, texture, juiciness and flavour.

In spite of the artificially high level of experimental contamination, treating fresh beef with the one-kGy e-beam eliminated more than 99.99 per cent of the VTEC E. coli and 99 per cent of the salmonella. The e-beam had less effect on salmonella when used on frozen beef, but this could be overcome if the beef was dipped in five per cent lactic acid before freezing.

The trained panel observed no effects of irradiation on the colour, aroma, texture, juiciness or flavour of beef patties, even when they were made entirely with beef that had been e-beam treated.

Irradiation was highly effective even in beef that was experimentally contaminated with up to a million times more bacteria than would be found in retail beef. Under normal processing conditions, a one-kGy e-beam would be expected to eliminate the hazard represented by all types of VTEC E. coli. Low-dose (one-kGy) e-beam treatment can effectively control E. coli O157:H7, non-O157 VTEC E. coli and salmonella in fresh beef trim. The e-beam did not significantly affect any sensory attributes of the beef patties, regardless of how much irradiated beef they contained. Low-dose e-beam treatment of beef trim to formulate ground beef appears to be a viable pathogen mitigation process that does not affect product quality.

Salami with E. coli pulled from shelves in Netherlands

The Italian company, Fiorucci, pulled 4,230 packages of 80 gram Salame Milano off the shelves in the Netherlands because they may be contaminated with E. coli. Albert Heijn is the only Dutch supermarket carrying the product.

Salame MilanoThe bacterium E.coli VTEC (or STEC) was found during a check by Campofrío Food Group.

The affected packages were sold in the Netherlands between January 30 and February 13. Only packages with expiration date April 21, 2014 are affected. The product was also distributed in Belgium and Austria.

NZ girl in hospital with E. coli after feeding lamb

A 3-year-old Canterbury girl is recovering in Auckland’s Starship children’s hospital after contracting E. coli and developing hemolytic uremic syndrome after feeding a lamb.

The story says the verotoxigenic E. coli came from the raw milk she was feeding the lamb, but it also could have come from the lamb, which Canterbury medical officer of health Alistair Humphrey apparently agreed with.

“It is not clear in this case whether the child contracted VTEC E.coli as a result of drinking unpasteurised milk or by simply touching the lamb. Fortunately, in this case the little girl is recovering.”

He said the incident highlighted the need for caution around farm animals.

“Touching farm animals can be lethal. VTEC is one of several diseases carried by healthy animals,” he said.

Humphrey said Community and Public Health was investigating two more possible cases.

A table of petting zoo outbreaks is available at http://bites.ksu.edu/petting-zoos-outbreaks.

Erdozain G, Kukanich K, Chapman B, Powell D. 2012. Observation of public health risk behaviours, risk communication and hand hygiene at Kansas and Missouri petting zoos – 2010-2011. Zoonoses Public Health. 2012 Jul 30. doi: 10.1111/j.1863-2378.2012.01531.x. [Epub ahead of print]

Abstract below:

Observation of public health risk behaviors, risk communication and hand hygiene at Kansas and Missouri petting zoos – 2010-2011Outbreaks of human illness have been linked to visiting settings with animal contact throughout developed countries. This paper details an observational study of hand hygiene tool availability and recommendations; frequency of risky behavior; and, handwashing attempts by visitors in Kansas (9) and Missouri (4), U.S., petting zoos. Handwashing signs and hand hygiene stations were available at the exit of animal-contact areas in 10/13 and 8/13 petting zoos respectively. Risky behaviors were observed being performed at all petting zoos by at least one visitor. Frequently observed behaviors were: children (10/13 petting zoos) and adults (9/13 petting zoos) touching hands to face within animal-contact areas; animals licking children’s and adults’ hands (7/13 and 4/13 petting zoos, respectively); and children and adults drinking within animal-contact areas (5/13 petting zoos each). Of 574 visitors observed for hand hygiene when exiting animal-contact areas, 37% (n=214) of individuals attempted some type of hand hygiene, with male adults, female adults, and children attempting at similar rates (32%, 40%, and 37% respectively). Visitors were 4.8x more likely to wash their hands when a staff member was present within or at the exit to the animal-contact area (136/231, 59%) than when no staff member was present (78/343, 23%; p<0.001, OR=4.863, 95% C.I.=3.380-6.998). Visitors at zoos with a fence as a partial barrier to human-animal contact were 2.3x more likely to wash their hands (188/460, 40.9%) than visitors allowed to enter the animals’ yard for contact (26/114, 22.8%; p<0.001, OR= 2.339, 95% CI= 1.454-3.763). Inconsistencies existed in tool availability, signage, and supervision of animal-contact. Risk communication was poor, with few petting zoos outlining risks associated with animal-contact, or providing recommendations for precautions to be taken to reduce these risks.

Where did dangerous E. coli come from? And why are weird forms in lettuce?

Is Michael Pollan becoming the John Irving of food writing? Irving, the author of The World According to Garp and dozens of other whimsical tomes, is often characterized by excessive wordage – as in, great story, but could have been told with half the words.

Foodie Pollan shows the same characteristics in a longwinded reviewed of a bunch of new books about food politics – because what’s better than preparing and eating food than reading about it and watching others do it on television.

But there’s a nosestretcher alert hidden in all those words. Pollan writes,

“The 1993 deaths of four children in Washington State who had eaten hamburgers from Jack in the Box were traced to meat contaminated with E.coli O157:H7, a mutant strain of the common intestinal bacteria first identified in feedlot cattle in 1982.”

To clarify: E. coli O157:H7 belongs to a ?family of bacteria called verotoxigenic E. coli (VTEC) first recognized by researchers at Health Canada in 1977. VTEC is used interchangeably with Shiga-toxin producing E. coli, or STEC, and appear to have evolved tens of thousands of years ago.

In 1982, E. coli O157:H7 was first identified as a cause of human disease after 47 people in White City, Ore., and Traverse City, Mich., developed severe stomach disorders after eating McDonald’s hamburgers.

Twenty years later, more than 200 hundred different serotypes –members of the same bacterial strain but with different proteins on their outer shell — have been isolated from humans, foods and other sources. About 150 of these have been isolated from humans, and more than 50 have been shown to cause disease in humans.

Carlton Gyles (above, right, exactly as shown), a leading STEC researcher at the University of Guelph, wrote in 2007 review in the Journal of Animal Science:

Shiga toxin-producing E. coli refers to those strains of E. coli that produce at least 1 member of a class of potent cytotoxins called Shiga toxin. The STEC are also called verotoxin-producing E. coli. The names Shiga toxin (Stx), derived from similarity to a cytotoxin produced by Shigella dysenteriae serotype 1 (O’Brien et al., 1982), and verotoxin (VT), based on cytotoxicity for Vero cells (Konowalchuk et al., 1977), are used interchangeably. Those STEC that cause hemorrhagic colitis and hemolytic uremic syndrome are called enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC; Levine et al., 1987; Nataro and Kaper, 1998). Ruminants, especially cattle, constitute a vast reservoir.

The STEC have been characterized by a variety of methods, including serotyping, which is used extensively to categorize strains of E. coli (Blanco et al., 2004a,b; Prager et al., 2005). The serotype of an E. coli isolate is based on the O (Ohne) antigen determined by the polysaccharide portion of cell wall lipopolysaccharide (LPS) and the H (Hauch) antigen due to flagella protein. There are 174 O antigens (numbered 1 to 181, with numbers 31, 47, 67, 72, 93, 94, and 122 deleted) and 53 H antigens in the international serotyping scheme, with E. coli isolates having various combinations of O and H antigens (Scheutz et al., 2004). A high percentage of STEC serotypes are nonmotile (NM) mutants of strains with an H antigen. … Because of the importance of serotype O157:H7 in human disease, it is common to consider STEC serotypes in 2 major categories, O157 and nonO157.

Those non-O157 types are showing up in romaine lettuce. E. coli O145 has sickened some 50 people who consumed lettuce processed by Freshway Foods. However, additional testing revealed another STEC in a bag of Freshway lettuce, which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has types as Escherichia coli O143:H34. That E. coli has not, according to the Columbus Dispatch, been linked to any known food-borne illness here or elsewhere, but it could sicken people.