In Germany, three people have died and 400 are seriously ill from a deadly strain of E. coli known as enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC). The source of the outbreak is not known, and laboratory tests have shown this current bacterial strain is partially resistant to antibiotics.
The outbreak began in the second week of May, and 40 cases are said to be very serious. Spiegel reports that Monday night, several patients were fighting for their lives, with some having to be artificially ventilated. One patient was in a coma.
The outbreak is currently concentrated in the north of Germany; symptoms include bloody diarrhea and stomach cramps, and in some cases, an infection can cause a disease called haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS), which can lead to kidney failure and death.
Considering that approximately 1,000 people reportedly become infected with the pathogen each year in Germany, the current infection rate is alarmingly high, and has spread like wildfire. “The current trend exceeds any historical comparison,” said microbiologist Werner Solbach from the University Hospital Schleswig-Holstein in Kiel.
Approximately two weeks ago, four people in Japan died from E.coli after dining at a barbecue chain restaurant. Two of the four who died were six-year-old boys, and over 70 were stricken with food poisoning. The E.coli was detected in a Korean-style steak tartare dish called yukhoe served at the restaurant chain’s outlets.
Strains of the pathogen including O-111 and O-157 E.coli were detected among hospitalized patients, at least 20 of whom are considered to be in critical condition.
In the U.S., antibiotics are routinely given to factory farmed animals and pumped into animal feed and water. In 2009 alone, 28 million pounds of antibiotics were used on U.S. animals. As a result, federal studies routinely discover drug-resistant bacteria in meat sold in U.S. supermarkets.
Densely-stocked industrial farms are ideal breeding grounds for drug-resistant bacteria that move from animals to humans.
According to a recent study, drug-resistant strains of Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus), a bacteria linked to a wide range of human diseases, were present at high rates in meat and poultry from U.S. grocery stores.
In the study, nearly half of the meat and poultry samples were contaminated with S. aureus, and more than half of those bacteria were resistant to multiple classes of antibiotics, rendering S. aureus a superbug that can potentially cause a range of illnesses from minor skin infections to pneumonia, endocarditis and sepsis.