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ESBL Ecoli

Posted in E. coli on December 12, 2018

Food safety literature is currently dominated by the spread of foodborne illnesses at all stages of the food system. These recent phenomenons have highlighted the importance of successfully coordinating food safety in food preparation to avoid delicious meals turning into food nightmares. As food systems evolve over time, the prevalence of foodborne illnesses is a worrying development. Consumers deserve the highest food safety standards which ensure safe nutritious food is readily available. The food system in the U.S. is vulnerable to shocks with the spread of disease and subsequent food recalls dominating the news currently. Here’s what they have to do with ESBL Ecoli.

The most common of these diseases is escherichia coli (E. coli), a common bacteria which normally exists harmlessly in the human intestines. E. coli has risen to an unprecedented level in every corner of the globe and is now the most common pathogen of bacterial infections worldwide. To illustrate the widespread presence of the illness, as many as 80 percent of urinary tract infections are caused by E. coli. Despite a commitment by stakeholders to increase consumer awareness of foodborne illnesses, the spread of E. coli is still relentless. This article will focus on extended-spectrum beta-lactamases (ESBL) E. coli, illustrating the complexity of the illness and highlight its implications for food safety.

ESBL are enzymes that are resistant to antibiotics. This strain of E. coli is resistant to penicillins, cephalosporins and monobactam aztreonam. Consequently, this illness is hard to treat and poses significant problems for health professionals. E. coli is dangerous, with severe outcomes, thus must be given the undivided and full attention of consumers in order to manage outbreaks efficiently. The American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that ESBL-producing bacteria are considered a serious threat for consumers in the U.S. Researchers are still rigorously investigating ESBL to gain a clearer understanding of how the illness operates. The illness is only newly discovered and knowledge on the intricate details are still pending with the the first reported case of ESBLs occuring in Greece in the 1960s. The first reported case in the U.S. was even later and did not happen until 1988. Since the first recorded cases, the occurrence of infection due to ESBL has rapidly increased, becoming a huge public health issue today. The CDC estimates that there are 26,000 infections and 1,700 deaths annually due to ESBL.

To gain a more comprehensive understanding of the EBSL illnesses, a further breakdown of the cause and effect is necessary. The enzymes of ESBL are produced by a specific type of bacteria which are extremely effective in combating and breaking down the active ingredients in many common antibiotics found in the U.S. ESBL is easily spread from person-to-person through unwashed hands, handling contaminated equipment or touching water or dirt that contains the bacteria. Further, animals can carry ESBL and avoiding touching alleviates the potential for infection. Severe bloodstream and lung infections are examples of serious symptoms of ESDL as a result of the spreading of the illness through poor hygiene. Fundamentally, frequently washing hands properly is paramount to avoid the spread of ESBL. In cases of serious illnesses, ESBL-producing strains can be present in the body for months or even years. Taking antibiotics are often ineffective and will probably not help; antibiotics can treat superbug infections but do not necessarily eliminate the bacteria from the body, especially if there are some in the gut. Consequently, the strain will often be lost naturally.

The statistics for ESBL are startling and demonstrate the urgent need for increased research in prevention. Infections take a considerable time to cure with the average treatment times between several weeks and months. A study in 2015 found that most people infected with ESBL-producing bacteria had been hospitalized for an average of between 11 and 64 days before developing the infection. As with countless foodborne illnesses, the chance of infection and speed of recovery is dependent on age and health. A weakened immune system coupled with either young or elderly age drastically increases the chance of illness. In these cases, hospitalization and isolation may be necessary as the only solution to the illness. Gary Freed of Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan explains that “in most cases children recover quickly from food poisoning, but in certain cases it can be debilitating, it’s impossible to completely protect children from food-borne illness. However, there are strategies to try to reduce the risk of getting sick from eating spoiled or contaminated food. We found that while parents paid closer attention to food safety in their own home, they were not always as cautious about outside sources.”

ESBL is interrelated with food given that the strain is isolated in meat samples, including pork chops, ground beef, ground turkey and chicken breast. Evidence suggests that the ESBL disease can be found in the faeces of humans and farm animals. As a result, it is possible that contamination of food, e.g. raw meat, by bacteria from animal faeces has led to infections in humans. In relation to meat, chickens are known to have a remarkably high infection rate to ESBL. Recent investigations carried out in the USA, Spain and Great Britain confirmed this with an astonishing one quarter of foreign chickens sold in British supermarkets infected with ESBL.

A new groundbreaking study used antimicrobial susceptibility testing and whole genome sequencing to investigate ESBL producing E. coli that were isolated from cattle for the production of food. Results have shown that all of the tested samples were resistant to at least three antimicrobial classes. Editor-in-Chief Alexander Tomasz from the Rockefeller University states that “this interesting and well-documented paper by Daniel Tadesse and colleagues provides convincing and alarming evidence of the ‘arrival’ to the dining room table of meat products contaminated by multidrug resistant E. coli. This paper brings ‘home’ the seriousness of the issue of antimicrobial drug resistance.”

By: Billy Rayfield, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)