Thursday, June 2, 2011

EU E. Coli Mutant Killer Bacteria New!! Unknown!!! Or, Not

"E. coli outbreak is a new strain"
James Gallagher, BBC News (June 2, 2011)

"The World Health Organization says the E. coli outbreak in Germany is a completely new strain of the bacteria.

"The infection can cause the deadly complication - haemolytic-uraemic syndrome (HUS) - affecting the blood and kidneys.

"More than 1,500 people have been infected and 17 have died: 16 in Germany and one in Sweden.

"In the UK, three British nationals have been infected - all had visited Germany.

"Aphaluck Bhatiasevi, a WHO spokesperson, is reported as saying: 'This strain has never been seen in an outbreak situation before.'

"Scientists at the Beijing Genomics Institute, in China, are also reported as saying: 'This E.coli is a new strain of bacteria that is highly infectious and toxic.'

"Preliminary genetic analysis of the outbreak suggests the bacteria is unique.

"Early evidence suggests the bacteria has genes from two distinct groups of E. coli: enteroaggregative E. coli (EAEC) and enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC)...."

First, and very important: People died, 17 in all that we know of; around 1,500 others are or have been sick. This E. coli outbreak is a serious health hazard.

It's also doing no favors to farmers, folks who make their living in the EU food processing and distribution system, and consumers. That's arguably not as important as the loss of life - but a whole lot of folks who haven't been directly affected by this bug have either lost income, or have to destroy food they bought. My guess is that it'll drive food prices up, too.

Back to E. Coli, the WHO, and scientists who say it's new.

They could be right. Or, not.

Those last to paragraphs in the BBC News excerpt, again, with the Lemming's emphasis:

"...Preliminary genetic analysis of the outbreak suggests the bacteria is unique.

"Early evidence suggests the bacteria has genes from two distinct groups of E. coli: enteroaggregative E. coli (EAEC) and enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC)...."

"Preliminary" and "suggests" are not "definitive" and "demonstrates."

WHO, CDC, and Editorial Style

The WHO says new killer bacteria! China scientists declare mutant peril! CDC Indecisive! Will America's Arrogant Indifference Doom Us All?!

No, the Lemming has not run into any headlines quite like those.

However, the Lemming also wasn't too surprised - or shocked - that the CDC isn't as certain as news editors may be, about this being a new strain of E. Coli.

My guess is that folks at the World Health Organization aren't quite as sure as news reports imply they are:

"Cases of haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS) and enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC) continue to rise in Germany. Ten countries have now reported cases to WHO/Europe.

"As of 31 May 2011, nine patients in Germany have died of HUS, and six of EHEC. One person in Sweden has also died. There are many hospitalized patients, several of them requiring intensive care, including dialysis....

"...Numerous investigations are continuing into the cause of the outbreak, which is still unclear.

"In accordance with the International Health Regulations (IHR), WHO is keeping Member States informed about the latest developments and providing technical guidance on further investigation of the ongoing outbreak. WHO does not recommend any trade restrictions related to this outbreak."
(WHO news (June 2, 2011))

That "the cause of the outbreak ... still unclear" thing might refer to the E. coli strain, how the bacteria got into Europe's food supply, or both, as far as the Lemming knows.

If you're waiting for a rant about journalistic irresponsibility, that's not gonna happen in this post. News media, what the Lemming's read, has done a pretty good job of reporting this outbreak - all things considered.

About the CDC and WHO apparently not being on the same page? Presenting that as if it were a conflict is factually accurate, in the Lemming's opinion, but probably misleading. News media, in America at least, tends to show everything as conflict - as the Lemming learned during journalism courses, decades back.

Quite a few folks who wouldn't be interested in what two guys at the next table are saying might get interested if the strangers were arguing about something. Conflict often sparks interest.

In the same way, perceived conflict in a headline tends to spark interest. The function of news is to sell newspapers, magazines, and advertising. Also inform and persuade. Which is, in the Lemming's opinion, okay.

Provided that folks who read and listen to the news know what's going on.

Back to E. Coli.

Rare, Yes: New? Maybe Not So Much

"...'We have very little experience with this particular strain, but it has been seen before,' said Robert Tauxe, deputy director of the CDC's division of foodborne diseases.

"The CDC said the strain is very rare and added that, while it is not aware of any cases ever having been reported in the United States, it is aware of a few previous reports of the strain in other countries. Britain's Health Protection Agency has said that the strain suspected in the outbreak is 'rare' and 'seldom seen in the UK.'..."
(CNN June 2, 2011)

Maybe Robert Tauxe, the CDC database, and the British HPA are all wrong. Or maybe the New! Unknown! strain just didn't ring any bells in the labs where the samples were studied.

'Wash Your Hands Before Eating' - Mom (or Dad) was Right

The Lemming's read the usual 'cook meat, wash hands, wash produce' advice on the WHO website and elsewhere. You've read it all before, anyway. The Lemming thinks it's a good idea, by the way.

Meanwhile, in Texas

The Amarillo Globe-News reports that folks got sick there. E. coli. Seriously enough, in the case of four children, for them to be hospitalized.

'And the moral of this is:' quite a few things, actually.

The usual thing about common-sense hygiene, of course.

Also, that children are quite often the folks who wind up with really serious E. coli infections. Which makes the European outbreak odd.

European E. Coli Outbreak: Kids, No; Women, Yes

"...Previous E. coli outbreaks have mainly hit children and the elderly, but the European outbreak is disproportionately affecting adults, especially women...."
(Associated Press, via June 2, 2011)

That is odd - maybe this strain of E. coli is new, after all.

Or maybe there's something different about the way it's being spread.

If the outbreak was in America, with that particular demographic getting sick, the Lemming might suspect some sort of 'Fat-B-Gone All-Natural Organic Vegetarian Salad' product.

It's early days: and this outbreak will probably stay in the news for a while. It's massive. And that's another topic.

Remember Ebola?

A not-so-high-profile news item. Not internationally, anyway, as far as the Lemming knows:

"Ebola in Uganda"
WHO news (May 18, 2011)

"On 13 May 2011, the Ministry of Health (MoH) of Uganda notified WHO of a case of Ebola Haemorrhagic fever in a 12 year old girl from Luwero district, central Uganda. On 6 May she presented to a private clinic in Zirobwe town, Luwero district, with a 5-day history of an acute febrile illness with haemorrhagic manifestations. She was later referred to Bombo General Military Hospital where she died few hours after admission.

"Laboratory investigations at the Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI), Entebbe, Uganda confirmed Ebola virus (Sudan species). A sample is on route to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Atlanta, USA for additional analysis and sequencing.

"A National Task Force has been convened by the MoH Uganda, which is working with several partners including WHO, CDC, the African Field Epidemiology Network (AFENET) and USAID. A joint MoH, WHO and CDC team was deployed to the district on 13 May to carry out a detailed epidemiological investigation. WHO will be supporting the MoH in the areas of epidemiology and infection control...."

The ebola case is just that - one case. From the sounds of it, folks in Uganda want to keep it that way. Quite understandably.

And that is yet another topic.1

Related posts:
In the news:

1 The Lemming's posted about Africa, health care, and related issues, in another blog:


Brigid said...

There's an odd word in here: "the CDC isn't as certain as news editors of, about this being"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian Gill said...


The words are okay - the job I did, editing them, not so much.

I changed the sentence a little, instead of going with the modestly ranting assertion I originally had in mind.


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