In a special web broadcast, available online from today (Thursday, March 20th) Dr Jim Beattie, Paediatric Consultant with NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde has issued key advice on how to avoid children contracting E coli O157 this spring.
E coli O157 may be a form of food poisoning but the majority of cases are contracted through direct or indirect contact with animals and Scotland has some of the highest rates of this type of infection anywhere in Europe - 244 reported cases in 2007.
With the Easter holidays about to start, and spring break not that far off, children want to visit farm parks and petting zoos. With a few simple precautions children can be protected against catching E coli O157.
Dr Beattie is a consultant at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Yorkhill, and he treats a high proportion of children in the West of Scotland who contract the infection. He wants people to be aware where the danger areas are for E.coli O157, and how you can protect your children from catching the bug.
He explains: “E coli O157 is spread in a number of ways. What most people don’t think about is how it can be caught through direct or indirect contact with infected animals.
“That's why it's more common in the spring and summer months, when people are outside more and when children are taken to farms, country parks and petting zoos.
“We want parents to take extra care this spring and summer while visiting places where there are grazing animals.”
He added: “Private water supplies can be another risk factor for E coli O157 because of contamination from agricultural land. My advice is to check with the owner whether the water supply is private. However, if anyone is unsure they should err on the side of caution and either boil water before use or use bottled water.”
There are a number of precautions people can take to prevent contracting E coli O157 without stopping children from enjoying the outdoors. It is important to be absolutely scrupulous about making them wash their hands and making sure they don’t touch their mouths or faces after touching an animal before they wash their hands
And it’s not just the children who should be meticulous about their hygiene. E.coli O157 can be spread by person to person contact, so thorough and careful hand hygiene is important for all the family.
Dr Syed Ahmed, Consultant in Public Health Medicine, added: “Parents can prevent themselves and their children from catching the infection by following a few simple steps.
“Everyone should wash their hands thoroughly before and after food handling, cooking and eating. Hand hygiene is extremely important also when leaving a farm park or petting zoo, using the toilet, handling animals or changing a baby’s nappy.
“Parents and children should practice hand hygiene following any visits to farms even if they have no direct contact with animals as often the environment i.e. fences, shrubs and hay can get contaminated by animal faeces.
“If everyone thinks about their hand hygiene this summer, Scotland could have the lowest figures for E coli O157 infection across Europe rather than one of the highest.”
Notes to Editors
There were 244 reported cases of E coli O157 in Scotland for 2007 and 243 reported cases during 2006.
What is E coli?
There are many types of the E coli bug, some types are found as a normal organism in everyone’s gut where they do not usually cause any problems. Occasionally they can cause infections in other parts of the body but can be easily treated by antibiotics.
Most E coli strains are therefore harmful but E coli O157, however, can cause serious illness. It can be contracted by eating contaminated food but more commonly from direct or indirect contact with animals and countryside environments.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms associated with E coli O 157 include stomach cramps, diarrhoea, vomiting and fever.
Some people show few or no symptoms and for the majority of people the illness resolves within 5 – 10 days. In small children and the elderly, however, the infection can be more severe and cause acute kidney failure and can be fatal in a small number of cases.
Should people go to work or school if infected with E.coli O157?
E.coli O157 is spread very easily and anyone who has symptoms of E coli O157 should stay off work or school until they feel better.
Click here to view Dr Beattie's webcast clips.
For further information contact 0141 201 4429.