How Scotland's Wet Weather Has Sent E.coli Cases Soaring; Deadly: The E.coli Bug

Article excerpt

Byline: Maureen Culley

THE weather has been blamed for a dramatic rise in the number of cases of the most lethal strain of the E.coli bug in Scotland.

In the first 28 weeks of this year, figures reveal the number of infections of E.coli 0157 surged by 30 per cent.

Health Protection Scotland (HPS) yesterday said they believe the increase - seen across most NHS boards - relates to 'wider environmental factors', notably rainfall.

E.coli 0157 is carried in the last few inches of the intestines of cattle and sheep, causes no harm to the animals and is generally killed by cooking, washing, disinfection and sterilisation procedures.

But contamination risks are increased if infected dung contam- inates surfaces and grass fields, food crops fertilised by farmyard manure, farm buildings, troughs and other implements which can see the spread of infection.

Now health officials are reminding people living in the countryside or visiting farm areas to be aware of the need for hygiene at all times.

Dr John Cowden, consultant epidemiologist at HPS, said: 'Cattle and sheep shed E.coli 0157 organisms in their dung and increased rainfall leads to wetter dung.

'This transfers more easily on to the hands and shoes of people camping, picnicking or working on grazing land. Children in particular can then more easily transfer it to their mouths accidentally.

'Simple precautions such as handwashing can help people reduce these risks and still enjoy visiting or working in the countryside.' E.coli 0157 was first noticed in 1982 after a fatal food poisoning outbreak in America caused by undercooked burgers. Since then, it has been found around the world and linked not just to meat but also to salad crops and to countryside activities in general.

For reasons yet unknown, Scotland has a particularly high incidence of the bug.

In 1996, 21 elderly people died from eating meat pies distributed by a butcher's in Wishaw, Lanarkshire, in the world's worst outbreak. …