Babies and children * 50+ health * Healthy living

E. coli outbreak in Surrey

eColi Twelve children hospitalised

Twelve children are in hospital - 3 with serious illness - after an E. coli outbreak occurred at a children's farm in Surrey. All children are under the age of 10.

In a statement issued last night, the Health protection Agency (HPA) said that a total of thirty-six people have been infected after visiting Godstone farm.

Six of the children are in a stable condition, and three have recovered sufficiently to allow them to be transported from specialist paediatric units in London to hospitals closer to their homes.

The HPA received a report of E. coli poisoning on August 27th, from someone who had visited the farm on August 8th. More laboratory confirmed cases were reported, leading to the farm's closure on September 12th.

Escherichia coli, or E. coli, is a bacterium which lives in the gut of humans and animals. Usually harmless, some strains such as E. coli 0157 produce toxins which can be fatal to humans. It can survive in the environment for some time. People usually become infected after eating undercooked meat or vegetables grown on land which has been contaminated.

At Godstone farm the victims probably became infected after petting the animals.

For many people who become infected, the symptoms of E. coli 0157 infection are similar to those of food poisoning. However, the old and young are more at risk of severe illness. Complications such as anaemia, neurological problems and kidney failure can also happen. Anyone who has recently visited the farm and experienced the following symptoms should seek medical advice:

  • diarrhoea (which can be bloodstained)
  • vomiting
  • fever
  • abdominal pain and cramps
  • feeling weak or lethargic
  • passing less urine than usual
  • pallor
  • fits

Dr Angela Iversen, Director of the Health Protection Unit, said: "We are urging parents to follow strict hand washing with their families when visiting these farms. Although many parents may carry alcohol gels with them, this should be an adjunct to hand washing with soap and water and not a substitute.

"E. coli 0157 is an infection that people can pick up when handling or stroking animals, unless hands are thoroughly washed afterwards to minimise the risk. It can also be spread easily from person to person so good hygiene is vital, especially in young children whose hand washing after using the toilet and before eating should be supervised."

This article was published on Mon 14 September 2009

Image © Janice Haney Carr (CDC)

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