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E. coli outbreak in EU and probable impacts on India: A bird’s eye view
The World Health Organization announced “…A new and more virulent strain of the E coli bacterium caused the outbreak that has killed 17 people and left more than 1,500 ill across Europe”
The outbreak is said to have originated from Germany in May 2011, after several people were infected with bacteria leading to hemolytic-uremic syndrome after consumption of fresh vegetables. Abbreviated as HUS, hemolytic-uremic syndrome is a disease caused by hemolytic anemia, acute renal failure (uremia) and low platelet count. This is a severe condition that requires urgent treatment. It is preceded by diarrhea caused by E. coli 0104:H4, acquired as a food borne illness. However, the ongoing outbreak is said to have been caused by a mutant version of two different versions of the bacteria that have not been seen before.
In an unusual situation that Germany is going through now, along with several other European countries, its authorities alleged the E.coli strain is originating from imported organic cucumbers from Spain and issued a notice to neighboring nations. This resulted in their withdrawal from the market. However, Spain has reacted saying that these were baseless allegations after investigations that revealed that the greenhouses being questioned did not have any E.coli strains in their cucumber produce. It is being said now that cross-contamination might have occurred inside Germany itself. Spain is threatening legal action over the crisis. It wants compensation for its farmers, who say lost sales are costing them 200 million Euros ($287 million) a week and could put 70,000 people out of work.
In a precautionary move, Russia has banned the import of raw vegetables from Europe, mainly from Germany and Spain. No infections have been reported in the country yet. The outbreak has hit at least nine European states, but nearly all the people affected either live in Germany or recently travelled there. Two people who were taken ill are now in the US; both had recently travelled to Hamburg, Germany, where many of the infections occurred. Germany’s national health agency said that more than 1,530 people there had been affected by the E coli germ, including 470 suffering from a kidney failure complication that was previously considered extremely rare.
In an interesting speculation over the greater number of women dying of the infection;13 out of 19 deaths so far are of adult women, it is being said that since this infection is being caused mostly by salad vegetables, it points that women are choosing healthier diets as compared to men. Also, a worth mentioning is the fact that E coli infections generally target children in most cases of outbreaks, but in this case the infected people are largely adults. This also points to the dietary habits of populations and resulting demography of infections.
Chances of spread to India
With hundreds of flights opened between India and Europe in the recent years, the chances of this fatal E. coli mutant travelling to India cannot be ruled out. Especially this being the peak tourism season due to summer vacations all over the nation, India needs to frame a precautionary policy. The transmission can happen, likewise, from European tourists coming to India.
Reports suggest that Hyderabad is at a special risk since it hosts direct flights to Germany. Even in the past, it has been a victim of E coli superbugs and the authorities have consistently failed to take precautionary measures for it or even to handle the crisis effectively.
The Healthcare Assembly (New Delhi)