E.coli O157 & Haemolytic Uraemic Syndrome

Wet Weather Causes Rise in E.coli

11th August 2004

The past few weeks have seen an increase in the number of cases of E.coli O157 throughout the country.

Official figures published by the Scottish Centre for Infection and Environmental Health (SCIEH) show that almost half of this years cases have occurred within the past six weeks. They believe that the outbreak is linked to the bad weather which has resulted in Scotland enduring one of its wettest summers in the past 50 years.

Heavy rainfall in areas where livestock have been grazing means that sheep and cow dung mixes with the water and is spread widely around a field. Microscopic amounts of the bacteria are then deposited on grass, meaning that a person who touches the grass or who even adjusts their boots after having been in an affected field will have the bacteria on their hands. Footwear can also spread contamination into buildings, tents and vehicles, while fences, gates, stiles, seating and play areas can also easily become contaminated. The organism is known to survive in soil and animal droppings for weeks, though the levels do generally decline over time.

In addition, the heavy rainfall also means that some E.coli can enter the water supply, especially through local streams and small rural water supplies.

Professor Bill Reilly of SCIEH said, The hypothesis we are working with is that the current increase in the number of incidents is linked to the bad weather. We are warning people who are holidaying in the countryside to take care before eating anything, because of the risk their hands could be carrying the infection. They should wash their hands properly with water before eating and make sure their children wash their hands even before eating something like a bag of crisps. He added that cleaning wipes and anti-bacterial gels were acceptable as second choices if soap and water were not available.

HUSHs Co-ordinator, Ishbel Mackinnon, had personal experience of this type of contamination when her son Jamie became infected at a Scout Camp in Aberdeenshire during May 2000. Twenty children were ill with diarrhoea and stomach cramps due to E.coli O157 and one developed Haemolytic Uraemic Syndrome (HUS) that necessitated treatment in a Glasgow hospital for several weeks. The source of infection was traced to sheep faeces and soil after sheep had grazed the site prior to the Scout camp.

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