14 September 2009
Media reports about the latest E.coli outbreak in Surrey affecting dozens of people have raised concerns about the health risks posed by the bacterium. Twelve children have been taken ill and remain in hospital, including three children who are described as being seriously unwell.
Godstone Farm, near Redhill has been identified as a possible source of the infection. The farm has been inspected by the Health Protection Agency
(HPA) and has now closed until investigations are completed. THE HPA has now apologised to the families affected by the outbreak for the delay in investigating the matter and taking action.
HPA is currently advising that if anybody who visited the Godstone Farm after 8th August, or any member of their family, becomes unwell, they should seek medical advice or contact NHS Direct
Sean Humber of Leigh Day & Co said:
“The priority now is to ensure that those infected receive the best medical care available. In due course it will be necessary to critically review the safety measures in place at the farm as well as to examine the time it took to close the farm after the first cases were reported to establish whether these cases could and should have been avoided. Those affected by the outbreak may have claims for compensation in relation to the injuries and losses sustained.”
Background to E. coli O157
E.coli is a bacterium many strains of which live harmlessly in the guts of humans and animals. However, a number of strains, including E.coli O157, produce harmful toxins that can cause a range of serious health problems in humans.
E.coli O157 was first identified as a cause of human illness in 1982. Since then, there have been increasing reports of outbreaks of ill health associated with E.coli O157, with approximately 1,000 cases reported a year, although it seems likely that the problem remains grossly under-investigated and under-reported.
Infection with E.coli O157 poses particular dangers to vulnerable groups such as children, the elderly and the sick.
The symptoms in humans following infection can vary widely. In some cases there can be no symptoms at all, while in other cases those infected can suffer from diarrhoea. However, in others, the infection causes very serious health problems which can even result in death. These problems include:
- haemorrhagic colitis (HC) – associated with inflammation of the bowel with bloody diarrhoea and severe abdominal cramps,
- haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS) – associated with red blood cell destruction, anaemia, low platelet count and renal failure.
In the worst reported outbreak in the UK, over 400 people were infected and 21 people died in Wishaw, Strathclyde in 1996 after eating infected meat from a local butcher with inadequate food hygiene standards. In 2005, over 150 people, mostly children, were infected in South Wales. Thirty one people were admitted to hospital and one 5 year old boy died. Again infected meat from a local butcher and a failure of food hygiene standards at the butcher was found to be the cause.
Infection with E coli O157
Humans can become infected with E.coli O157 in a variety of different ways. These include direct contact with animals carrying the organism, contact with their faeces or contact with contaminated food or water.
Overall, it is believed that the most common cause of infection in humans is through consumption of undercooked minced beef (eg beefburgers) and unpasteurised milk. Infection can spread from person to person as a result of poor hygiene practices allowing faecal – oral spread.
Leigh Day & Co
Sean Humber, a Partner in the Human Rights Department of Leigh Day & Co. is the legal advisor of the Haemolytic Uraemic Syndrome Help
- U.K. E.Coli Support Group (HUSH).
HUSH is a charitable organisation set up by families whose members have suffered illnesses caused by E coli O157 infections. The organisation is supported by members of the medical, microbiological, public health and legal professions.
HUSH’s aims include supporting those affected by the infection, increasing awareness amongst the public and medical profession of the health problems caused by the infection and to encourage the Government to take steps to decrease the numbers affected.
Sean has considerable experience with dealing with claims for compensation by those affected by E.coli O157 and other types of food poisoning (including Salmonella) and microbiological infection (including toxic mould) during the last 10 years.
Sean is recognised as being an expert in this specialist area of environmental law in the latest editions of the Legal 500 and Chambers and Partners Directory.
If you believe that you or a member of your family has suffered health problems as a result of an E. coli infection, Leigh Day & Co Solicitors have the knowledge and skill to represent you in a potential claim. For a free initial consultation please contact Sean Humber
or Benjamin Burrows
on 020 7650 1200.
Information was correct at time of publishing. See terms and conditions for further details.