click image to zoom For twenty years, the news about E. coli has been so thoroughly one-sided that the public probably thinks its last name is O157:H7. Then that notorious barrister Bill Marler introduced us to six close relatives, the so-called non-O157 STEC’s that had the capability of making us sick.
“Not so!” said some. “None of those non-O157 STEC’s have been found in meat and no one has been reported as ill because of those rascals.”
So Mr. Marler hired IEH Labs to look for them. The lab found them in a very small portion of their samples. And just a few weeks ago, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that non-O157’s as a group sickened more people than their big brother. It was probably because of improved testing, said federal health officials. There were 442 cases of E. coli O157 and about 41 percent required medical care. The other strains produced 451 cases, and 15 percent of those victims were hospitalized.
“But wait!” said some. “Lab tests are too slow and expensive and besides, the hurdles we’ve put in place for O157 should work just as well for the other six”
But the incidents caused by those six were still so rare that there was no rush to do something about them. Then came that European outbreak caused by a seventh cousin – O104:H4 - that was never even on the U.S. radar. After over two months of stumbling back and forth between several wrong ‘vectors’ and creating panic among consumers – the first symptoms were reported on March 25 - German authorities finally pinned the blame on bean sprouts from one small farm during a June 10 press conference. In the meantime, illnesses struck people in 13 European nations as well as Michigan, Massachusetts, Wisconsin and North Carolina.
The lab test objection also fell by the wayside in May when the USDA announced a standardized test for all six serotypes: 026, 0103, 045, 0121, 040 and the more virulent 0111.
Brand new research completed just days ago by German scientists indicates that the strain of E. coli bacteria that caused at least 3,792 illnesses (862 cases of HUS and 2,930 non-HUS illnesses) and 44 deaths in Europe is a ‘rare’ genetic mix with an ability to stick to intestinal walls that may have made it so lethal. The study, published in The Lancet on June 22, said the killer strain, E. coli O104:H4, was a hybrid first detected in a young German patient ten years ago.