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The outbreak of the E Coli infection in Germany over the past few days has made the medical world sit up and take notice: the poor Spanish are fuming over the insult laid at the feet of their cucumbers and the Russians have banned the import of food from Europe: no-one saw this coming! But the biggest mystery of all is that this is a completely new strain of the normally passive bug that most of us carry happily in our bowel. The E Coli outbreak in Germany is very nasty indeed, and is producing a Toxin that not only kills, but causes bloody diarrhoea and shuts down kidneys as well! Another twist is that this bug is affecting mainly adults (86%) when normally its the young ones who come down with Gastro first: and women are being hit the hardest (67%)*.
E Coli infections are spread by "faecal/oral" contamination and is common in areas where there is poor sanitation, a situation that does not occur in Northern Germany. The six million dollar question for this outbreak is: "What is the source of the contamination?" At present the experts are frantically searching for an answer, and that may take time, as they have to break down the genetic code of the bacteria to help try and identify its source.
The good news is that cooking will destroy E Coli: and with winter now with us here in Australia, it's much easier to avoid those food groups that may be involved in Germany - salads, tomatoes etc. However, the chance of this deadly bacteria getting to our shores is extremely slight, but that doesn't mean we should ever compromise the contents of our food chain. This is a timely warning that we should be very aware of what we spray on our vegetables and salads in the form of manure; and we should be even more aware that using antibiotics in cattle increases the chance of antibiotic resistant organisms developing here too.
Remember: wash your hands, wash your food and then cook it! Bon appetite!
*See Germany's WHO site at http://www.who.int/csr/don/2011_05_27/en/