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CDC: E coli poisoning cases down in 2009


300px_FoodMeat_wiki_892077780.jpgFoodborne illnesses caused by E coli O157, Salmonella, Listeria and Campylobacter have been on the sustained decline in the United States in 2009 compared to the period between 1996 and 1998 , according to a report released on April 16 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Compared to the period between 2006 and 2008, foodborne illnesses due to Shigella and E coli O157 also decreased in 2009.

In 2009, recorded were 17,468 cases of lab confirmed infection of which salmonella accounted for the largest number of cases, 7039, followed by little known pathogenic bacterium called campylobacter (6,033).  E coli, which has been often reported in the media, actually accounted only for 459 cases.

In children, the incidence pattern was similar to the one for the general population: salmonella was the number one trouble-maker, 72.93 per 100,000 and E coli were only responsible for 2.72 per 100,000 population.

Most of E coli strains are harmless while Shiga toxin producing E coli or STEC O157 or E coli O157:H7, the pathogenic strain most commonly identified in North America, can lead to serious complications particularly in young children, elderly people, and people who have had their immunity compromised like patients with cancer and HIV/AIDS.

Infection of E coli O157:H7 comes with symptoms including severe stomach cramps, diarrhea (often bloody) and vomiting.  If there is fever, the temperature si not very high.  Most healthy people recover within 5 o 7 days. But in rare cases, can the infection lead to life-threatening complications such as hemolytic uremic syndrome.

E coli infection can be prevented by washing hands thoroughly after using the bathroom or changing diapers and before preparing or eating food. These hygiene practices are essential, but unfortunately are not followed often.

Additionally, meat should be cooked "well done". For beef, the inner temperature should be measured at 160 oF/70 oC to be considered "done".

Other things that help prevent the illness is to avoid raw milk, unpasteurized dairy products and juices and avoid swallowing water when swimming or playing in lakes, ponds, streams and swimming pools.

Salmonella infection may result in symptoms including diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps in 12 to 72 hours and most people can recover within 4 to 7 days.  So the symptoms are similar to what arecaused by E coli O157:H7.  Again when the bacteria get into the blood stream, the condition will be serious and use of antibiotics are justified.

Most people catch salmonella through eating foods tainted with animal feces. The common foods implicated in salmonella poisoning include beef, poultry, milk or eggs, but any other food can also be tainted to cause the illness.

How to prevent salmonella infection?  First, meat and diary products should be cooked thoroughly and don't eat or drink foods containing raw eggs or milk. Hands, kitchen work surfaces, and utensils should be washed with soap and water immediately after the have been in contact with raw meat or poultry.

Don't stick fingers into your mouth after handling reptiles, birds, or baby chicks and after contact with pet feces.

David Liu