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News

Progress against deadly E. coli bug

Society For General Microbiology : 08 September, 2003  (Company News)
Scientists from the Institute for Animal Health announced progress towards controlling the deadly E. coli bacterium that causes food poisoning and kidney failure, at the Society for General Microbiology's meeting at UMIST in Manchester.
Scientists from the Institute for Animal Health announced progress towards controlling the deadly E. coli bacterium that causes food poisoning and kidney failure, at the Society for General Microbiology's meeting at UMIST in Manchester.

'This bacterium, E. coli O157, is passed on by eating meat and dairy products or through contact with dung from infected animals. It is the leading cause of acute kidney failure in children in the UK,' says Dr Mark Stevens from the Institute for Animal Health in Compton, Berkshire. 'We looked at the way it survives in sheep and cattle, searching for a weakness to help control it.'

About one in every 20 cattle in the UK harbours the bacterium, and it can survive in healthy animals for long periods, making direct or indirect contact with dung or contaminated food dangerous, especially for the very young or elderly.

The scientists have identified over 60 genes needed by E. coli O157 to survive in calves' intestines. This information will prove valuable in developing drugs or vaccines to prevent the bacterium from colonising the ruminants, which will help cut contamination of food and the environment, reducing the risk of infection for people.

'Although E. coli O157 is particularly nasty, causing bloody diarrhoea and life threatening kidney infections mainly linked to contaminated food or contact with farms, we are also worried about E. coli O26,' says Dr Stevens. 'This strain of bacteria is rare in the UK at the moment, but it is a rapidly growing threat to human and animal health in continental Europe'.

'We have already identified more than 50 important genes from E. coli O26, which uses distinctly different mechanisms to colonise the intestines of cattle. We hope these studies will improve diagnosis, and give us a chance to develop vaccines and treatments in time to prevent it becoming a serious threat here', says Dr Mark Stevens of the Institute for Animal Health.
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