Web Zap*Germs Archive

September 12, 2005

Imported Foods Could Be Behind UK E. coli Deaths

An antibiotic-resistant variety of E. coli bacteria has killed over 80 people, most elderly in the UK over the past two years, says Researchers have theorized that the bacteria could have been brought into the country via imported foodstuffs.
The problem E coli bugs, carrying enzymes called extended spectrum beta lactamases (ESBLs), were identified in Britain in 2001 and concern grew in 2003. The type causing all the problems is CTX-M-15, of which there are different strains.

This is not the type of E coli which causes food poisoning. This strain is usually associated with urinary tract infections. Most people will recover quickly with a standard course of antibiotics, but some cases can progress to blood poisoning. Complications are more likely in the elderly and those with other serious medical conditions. A study of more than half the known deaths so far suggests only between a fifth and a quarter were directly attributable to the infection.

David Livermore, the director of the antimicrobial resistance monitoring and reference laboratory at the Health Protection Agency, said a that food source was plausible. "You get low-level infection in your gut. You are then later in hospital, you are on antibiotics for other reasons, and a lot of the normal gut E coli get killed off. This one gets growing, and then you get a urinary tract infection and it has a resistant strain."


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