Killer bacterium: let’s take stock

It is a very rare variant of a germ normally present in our intestines. It is enough to follow a few hygiene rules to avoid contagion.

It is alarming the whole of Europe, but the World Health Organization reassures: it is a very rare variant of a germ normally present in our intestines. It is enough to follow a few hygiene rules to avoid contagion.

Escherichia coli O104: this is the name of the bacterium that is filling the news pages of newspapers throughout Europe and that, apparently, flew overseas also infecting US citizens. The number of infections continues to rise and everything seems to originate in Germany. But who is this new enemy of public health?

A generally friendly microorganism

Escherichia coli is a commensal bacterium of man: it lives in its intestine, where it participates in digestive functions and from which it is excreted through the feces.

Animals also quietly coexist with non-pathogenic species of this microorganism.

But the O104 strain represents a hitherto unknown and particularly aggressive variant of the bacterium.

However, it is not the only strain of coli that can threaten health. Of the more than 170 known, as many as 50 can seriously damage the body, causing urinary infections, meningitis, septicemia and pneumonia.

Normally antibiotic therapy is sufficient to treat the infection, but in the case of O104 a particular aggressiveness associated with resistance to antibiotics has been found, which may require dialysis to purify the blood. And the effectiveness of treatment is not always guaranteed, especially in the elderly.

How it is transmitted

The main source of O104 is contaminated food, but the debate on its origin is still open: the food may have come into contact with contaminated fertilizers already in the field, or on a means of transport that had previously transported livestock or, again, through water in which the bacterium was present.

Contagion from man to man is, however, rare, because it occurs by the orofecal route. No problem, then, if clean hands shake.

Although the infection initially spread mainly among women, Escherichia coli O104 can infect both male and female organisms indiscriminately.

Incubation and symptoms

Following the ingestion of contaminated food, the bacterium has an incubation phase varying between 10 and 13 days, after which the first gastrointestinal symptoms (vomiting and diarrhea) appear.

In the following days the temperature may rise and diarrhea worsens, accompanied by blood loss. Finally, in severe cases, the kidneys give way and the blood is altered. At this point, brain damage can develop and the infection can be fatal.

How to prevent contagion

The bacterium does not penetrate inside food, but remains on their surface. For this reason, to avoid contagion, it is sufficient to wash fruit and vegetables thoroughly and, if possible, peel them.

Cutlery must also be washed well after being used and if, after slicing fresh vegetables, it must be used for some other dish.

The same caution must be placed with the hands, which, as a good rule teaches, it is good to clean with soap before eating. And since temperatures above 70°C kill the bacterium, it is better to prefer well-cooked meat.

Joycelyn Elders is the author and creator of EmpowerEssence, a health and wellness blog. Elders is a respected public health advocate and pediatrician dedicated to promoting general health and well-being.

The blog covers a wide range of topics related to health and wellness, with articles organized into several categories.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *