Stopping E. coli O157:H7 infections

Transmission electron micrograph of Escherichia coli O157:H7: Courtesy CDC
Transmission electron micrograph of Escherichia coli O157:H7: Courtesy CDC
A recent NY times article looks into various approaches underdevelopment to prevent or treat food poisoning by the bacteria E. coli O157:H7. These approaches include:
Prevention – as we saw last fall, this does not always work. This is especially true with fresh produce.
Cattle vaccines – it reduces but does not eliminate the E. coli found in manure. Would this give us a false sense of security? What would the incentive be for farmers to vaccinate their herds? Cows don’t get sick from the bacteria so it would have to be a mandate or altruism.
Cattle antibiotics – feeding antibiotics to cows raises concerns of creating more antibiotic resistant pathogens.
Industrial chemicals – feed cows sodium chlorate which the O157 bacteria converts to it to sodium chlorite which poisons the pathogen
Bacterial-killing viruses – these are viruses that infect and kill only bacteria.
Friendly bacteria – is also known as probiotics. This approach feeds cattle friendly bacteria to displace the O157 bacteria. It is already sold to aid cattle digestion and some believe it reduces the amount of O157 bacteria in the manure
Human vaccines – are still years from the market. Early testing looks promising. Testing the effectiveness will be difficult. Should we be vaccinating every child in order to protect a small number? And would this make us lax with our food handling techniques. That will lead to other food and water borne infections.
Human drugs for treatment – outbreaks are rare and sporadic so these would be hard to test in clinical trials. The clues that signal an infection don’t start until 3-4 days after ingestion of the bacteria so it might also be hard to diagnose and treat the infection in a timely manner.
Monoclonal antibodies – these are a synthetic version of your body’s own infection fighters. They seem to be working in animals and with early human safety trials. But the cost is prohibitive to test them in order to prevent hemolytic uremic syndrome. This would start working once the toxin is already in the bloodstream so there are questions about its effectiveness.

We will probably see a few of these techniques used in parallel. What do you think is the best approach and why?

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

bill's picture
bill says:


posted on Mon, 12/10/2007 - 4:12pm

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