jueves, 9 de junio de 2011

A U.S. Response to the European E. coli Outbreak

Non-O157 STEC is as frequent as O157 STEC in the USA but they are not considered as adulterants.

In home kitchens and restaurants across Europe, vegetables are being cooked, in response to the tragic E. coli outbreak that has thus far claimed 24 lives and sickened over 2.000 people

This outbreak is especially concerning given the high rate (30%) of hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) and the fact that so many victims are adult women. HUS in adults is uncommon -- children are at highest risk of developing this serious complication of foodborne illness. It suggests that this is a particular nasty strain of STEC (shiga-toxin producing E. coli). HUS is a horrible disease that is characterized by cascading organ failure and can result in death. Those who survive often suffer long-term health effects, including end-stage kidney failure, diabetes and neurological complications.

One of the most troubling aspects of the ongoing outbreak in Europe is that it involves a strain of E. coli that is frequent in the United States. In recent years, public health officials and food safety advocates have been increasingly concerned about this class of E. coli, which is often referred to as non-O157 STECs. In fact, numbers released recently by the Centers for Disease Control show that the United States has about the same number of non-O157 STECs as O157:H7 STEC. This means that it is time to change the way we handle these deadly pathogens.

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) recently ruled that non-O157 STECs in beef products are not economically significant and delayed action on a proposal to declare them adulterants. I'm certain that Germany and Spain would disagree. Given the significant cost associated with STEC infection and its severe long-term health outcomes, these pathogens are clearly economically significant. As the European outbreak demonstrates once again, foodborne disease is economically significant -- especially in these hard economic times.

Unfortunately, at a time when people around the globe are focusing on food safety, last week a key Congressional subcommittee proposed significant cuts to the FDA and USDA food safety budgets. If passed through Congress, these budget cuts will make it nearly impossible for FDA to implement the new, higher standards in the recently signed food safety bill or for USDA to take action on non-O157 STECs. The United States will be taking a giant step backwards.

This time around there are more questions -- largely driven by reports that the United States feels that Europe is mishandling the outbreak investigation. This sound ironic since the U.S. doesn't really look for non-O157 STECs and we have had some highly publicized outbreaks that took months -- not weeks -- to solve.

Extracted from Barbara Kowalcyk , CEO of the Center for Foodborne Illness Research and Prevention.

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