Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Hello, how are you, is it seeds you're looking for?

It's all over, bar the shouting.  Or is it?

As at 30th June, 2011, there were 50 reported deaths from the Escherichia coli O104:H4 outbreak centred in Germany.  Cases of illness have been reported from 16 countries, not all victims having travelled to Germany.  This suggests that there may have been some person-to-person infection, though in at least one case, there appears to be none of these links.

Thankfully, the number of cases reported is dropping, the outbreak following a classic curve of increasing number of cases, followed by a decrease once reporting shows that there is an outbreak under way and information and preventative measures become available.

European scientists and government sources have suggested that  fenugreek seeds imported from Egypt in either 2009 or 2010 are implicated in the outbreaks in Germany and Bordeaux.  Epidemiological investigations do link these particular sprout seeds with the outbreaks.  But a link is not proof.

Not surprisingly, the Egyptians have objected to their seeds being blamed for the outbreak.  I have some sympathy with them - as far as I am aware, O104:H4 has not been isolated from any seed samples.  If these seeds are the source, then we have another problem on our hands.

If the seeds were imported to Germany and France, and perhaps other countries, the implication is that any E. coli O104:H4 present in the seeds survived for between two and three years before the sprouting process allowed them to multiply and cause the outbreak.  This raises a number of questions:  is this strain of E. coli particularly hardy, so that it can survive for years in dry seeds?  Were all the infected seeds exported from Egypt?  If not, were there any O104:H4 cases in Egypt between 2009 and the present?  If there were cases, why have we not heard about it?

I don't believe that we have heard the last of this by a long chalk.

1 comment:

Tanvi Shinde said...

I agree with you that the Egyptian seeds should not be blamed for the outbreak especially when the bugs have not been isolated from these seeds.
I came across this article and thought might interest you.(http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2011/07/peptide-could-be-new-combatant-to-e-coli/)

The article mentioned about a study that is analysing the effect of a specific peptide that hinders the ability of STEC to repair its DNA after damage from stomach acid. They have suggested that the peptide be used in sprays for washing fruits and vegetables to weaken the bugs. Interesting stuff!!

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