In Germany, there has been a recent outbreak in the bacteria, E. Coli. This epidemic has many worried because this strain of E. coli has never been seen in an outbreak before and there is no known cure for it so far. This outbreak of disease has killed 30 people to date and has more than 2,800 people sick. Modern history has not experienced such a devastation from an disease epidemic yet.
E. coli is a gram negative, rod-shaped bacterium. Most E. coli bacteria are harmless. They are in the intestines of all warm-blooded mammals. They live in the intestinal flora and are beneficial for the host. They produce potassium and also help prevent harmful bacteria from taking up residence in the intestine. However, there are different types of E. coli. A type of E. coli that isn't harmless, but actually life threatening, is called Enterohaemorrhagic. They produce toxins called Shiga toxins or verotoxins. These toxins damage the kidneys and blood cells. The E. coli bacteria are able to attach to an intestinal wall and slowly release shiga toxins making the host sick. The infection can cause cramps, bloody diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. The 0104:H4 infection hasn't been connected to causing vomiting. For those with a compromised immune system, such as the elderly and children, it can be life threatening. HUS, Haemolytic uraemic syndrome, is a complication caused by an E. coli infection. This syndrome can cause kidney failure and hemolytic anemia. People with HUS often need blood transfusions or dialysis.
The 0104:H4 strain of E. Coli is resistant to most antibiotics. However, antibiotics are usually not used to treat Enterohaemorrhagic E. coli because the antibiotics can be toxic themselves to the kidney and also they can harm the good bacteria in the intestines, making it so that the E. coli can spread farther. In fact, certain antibiotics can double the harm of E. coli. The antibiotic can turn on the bacterial gene that produces shiga toxin and then when it kills the bacteria, it kills bacteria that are full of toxin and making the effect of E. coli worse.
Right now several ideas are being tested to find a way to stop the Enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia Coli 0104:H4 from claiming more lives. There are German doctors in the process of trying the drug Soliris to stop hemolysis in the patients with the E. coli infections.
It is possible to get E. coli by consuming undercooked meats, raw milk, contaminated water and contaminated foods, such as raw vegetables and fruit. The infection can occur through contact with feces that are contaminated. The bacteria don’t die until cooked to the temperature of 70 degrees C (158 degrees F).
There are several ways to protect against getting E. coli. They are: washing hands well before handling food and after using the bathroom, washing fruits and vegetables well, by cooking all raw meats well, and by not drinking raw milk or contaminated water.