HC Deb 15 March 2001 vol 364 cc718-9W
Mr. McDonnell

To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will make a statement on the Government's policies(a) to prevent E.coli outbreaks and (b) to ensure appropriate diagnosis and treatment of E.coli sufferers. [150312]

Ms Stuart

TheE.coli bacterium of most concern is Vero cytotoxin-producing E.coli (VTEC) of which E.coli 0157 is the commonest.

Many outbreaks of E.coli 0157 are foodborne and have been associated with various foods including contaminated meat and dairy products. We have a wide range of policies aimed at preventing outbreaks of foodborne disease. All of these contribute to preventing outbreaks of E.coli 0157 food poisoning. As well as comprehensive food hygiene legislation, examples of these policies include the clean livestock policy and butchers' licensing.

E.coli 0157 outbreaks also occur from contact with farm animals or environments, including water, contaminated by animal faeces. The Chief Medical Officer issued health advice for farm visits by children last year, which was sent to all directors of public health and consultants in communicable disease control. Also in 2000, the Health and Safety Executive in collaboration with the Department of Health and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food revised guidance to farmers, farm workers and teachers on avoiding ill health at open farms. Further information produced by Government is also given to vulnerable groups, such as pregnant women, on how to avoid infection from various zoonotic diseases, including E.coli 0157. The Food Standards Agency has recently issued guidance on avoiding the risks from camping and picnicking on fields used for grazing animals.

A Government task force on E.coli 0157 has recently been set up to deal with specific areas of interest and concern. Their first meeting in September 2000 on human health aspects discussed and proposed practical steps on diagnosis, surveillance, treatment and care, outbreak management, person-to-person spread and risk assessment. The group are expected to report a programme of practical steps later in the year that can be taken forward to further reduce the risk of infection from E.coli 0157.

The Public Health Laboratory Service (PHLS) has published guidelines dealing with sampling and identification procedures and requires its laboratories to test all stool samples for E.coli 0157. All laboratories voluntarily notify all infections as part of an agreed reporting protocol.

In May 2000 the CMO's Update 26, which is distributed to all medical practitioners, carried an article "VTEC Guidance" which drew attention to the seasonal increase in infection, the risks from farm visits and the susceptibility of children to developing Haemolytic Uraemic Syndrome (HUS) following infection with E.coli 0157.

E.coli 0157 therapy is limited to supportive measures to maintain the body's fluid and electrolyte balance and monitoring for the development of HUS. Prescribing certain classes of antibiotics for E.coli infection may increase the risk of severe kidney disease and CMO Update 27 alerted medical practitioners to this in August 2000.

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