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expert reaction to investigation into STEC E.coli outbreak including news of one death likely linked to STEC E.coli infection

Scientists react to news that one person has died likely as a result of an E.coli infection. 


Prof Paul Hunter, Professor in Medicine, University of East Anglia (UEA), said:

How likely is it that this infection can lead to a death? How concerning is this news?

“STEC E. coli carries with it the highest risk of death of all the common causes of diarrhoea in high income countries like the UK. The death rate of known cases is about 0.5% with most deaths occurring in the over 65 years age group. However, deaths can occur in all age groups. About 10% of infections can lead to haemolytic uraemic syndrome that carries a higher fatality rate of up to about 5%. Haemolytic uraemic syndrome can lead to kidney failure. But according to the latest interim report published today, the cause in this outbreak is STEC O145 t5:206 which may carry a higher risk of death than the more common E. coli O157.


What new information does this investigation tell us about the outbreak?

“It is now pretty clear from the investigation that, as I suggested previously, the infection was caused by lettuce leaves included in sandwiches. Leafy salads are a well-known risk for STEC infections and difficult to eradicate as a risk. There is no suggestion in the interim report that the outbreak was due to failings on the sandwich makers premises.


Are there any remaining uncertainties?

“The problem with outbreaks caused by leafy salads such as lettuce in this case is that it is usually impossible to pinpoint how the lettuce got contaminated or indeed even where the lettuce was grown.


Should we expect more cases and/or deaths?

“It is likely that we will see more cases but the peak of the outbreak seems to have passed. But as the consequences of this infection can persist we may still see further deaths. However, the view is that new infections, from this source at least, seems to have been controlled. But of course STEC infections are not that rare and will probably continue to be reported.”


Investigation into an outbreak of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) O145 in Great Britain, May to June 2024


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