E. Coli on the Rise, Aided by Factory Farms, Antibiotic OveruseFeb 4, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP
E. coli is not going away anytime soon. As a matter-of-fact, U.S. food safety officials say the potential for dangerous E. coli bacteria is on the rise again with the potential greatest in spinach and other fresh foods. Since 2006, when an E. coli outbreak in spinach swept the nation, outbreaks of the bacteria have become more varied, likely because of the growing trend in raw fruits and vegetable consumption, which can harbor dangerous bacteria, HealthDay, reported in a syndicated story appearing in USA Today.
In the last two years, a variety of pathogens in food have killed at least three people, sickened more than 1,300 others, and touched nearly every state in the country as well as Canada, HealthDay reported. The problem is difficult to police because the food-surveillance system is outdated, under-funded, and overwhelmed by the emergence of mega-farms, mega-distribution centers, and mega-transporters, HealthDay said. "Before, it was just bad produce coming from one farm," said Michael Hansen, a senior scientist with Consumers Union.
Couple this with the overarching problem with infectious diseases which are now becoming more resistant to bacteria because of antibiotic overuse and abuse. We overuse or misuse antibiotics; bacteria mutate, changing just enough to ensure antibiotics have no effect on them and giving them a wide berth to spread with ever more power. Although tempting, preventative antibiotic regimes only worsen the epidemic and strengthen the bacteria. And while new drugs are emerging, it’s just a matter of time before super bugs will become resistant to them, too. In many cases, they have.
Antibiotic resistance is so pervasive that scientists now report having found evidence of drug-repelling E. coli in Arctic birds as remote as the polar ice cap. It seems migratory fowl that circumnavigate the globe along centuries-old flyways passed the bacteria. Scientists in Sweden traveled to vast regions of the frigid ice cap in search of species they hoped had been spared exposure to drug-resistant strains and were surprised to discover widespread antibiotic-resistant E. coli in Arctic-dwelling birds never previously exposed to the drugs. This study added credence to the notion that antibiotic resistance is global and no region is unscathed.
In addition to the spread of E. coli and the growing resistance of the infection to traditional medications, it seems that there is emerging data that the negative health effects of E. coli can remain for months and years later. It was believed that once we recover from a food-related contamination that we are healed and the illness is gone. Not so. According to recent research, these illnesses can have long-term, lasting effects that can either linger for months or years or can show up months or years after the original illness. As part of their studies, researchers found that some children who suffered severe cases of E. coli developed health problems later in life, such as kidney problems, high blood pressure, and kidney failure; the health problems appeared as late as 10 to 20 years later. The research also found people who suffered salmonella or shigella can find themselves suffering with arthritis later in life and, for those who exhibited mild campylobacter, a type of paralysis can strike following the initial complaints.