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Children sick in Scottish E. coli outbreak


Scottish officials are investigating a number of recent E. coli infections that have affected children.

E. coli O157 has sickened an unrevealed number of young people in the East Lothian area of Scotland.

A multi-agency incident management team is meeting to handle the cases and see if illnesses are connected. Officials said they were unable to provide information on the number of people sick, when they fell ill, their age range or gender to protect patient confidentiality.

Dr. Richard Othieno, consultant in public health medicine at NHS Lothian, said: “We’re aware of a number of confirmed cases of E. coli O157 in children from East Lothian. NHS Lothian, along with partner agencies, is investigating the source and has put in place control measures.

“There is no specific treatment for E. coli O157 infection and most people who are infected will get better without medical treatment. However, those who have symptoms, or are concerned, are advised to contact their general practitioner or NHS 24,” he said.

In 2019, there were 150 cases of E. coli O157 and 108 of non-O157 STEC reported to Public Health Scotland. The rates of infection were highest in children younger than 5 years of age with a peak in summer months.

E. coli can be caught in different ways such as by eating contaminated food, touching infected animals or coming into contact with their feces, contact with people who have the illness or drinking contaminated water.

About E. coli infections
Anyone who has developed symptoms of E. coli infection should seek medical attention and tell their doctor about their possible food poisoning. Specific tests are required to diagnose the infections, which can mimic other illnesses.

The symptoms of E. coli infections vary for each person but often include severe stomach cramps and diarrhea, which is often bloody. Some patients may also have a fever. Most patients recover within five to seven days. Others can develop severe or life-threatening symptoms and complications, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

About 5 to 10 percent of those diagnosed with E. coli infections develop a potentially life-threatening kidney failure complication, known as a hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). Symptoms of HUS include fever, abdominal pain, feeling very tired, decreased frequency of urination, small unexplained bruises or bleeding, and pallor. 

Many people with HUS recover within a few weeks, but some suffer permanent injuries or death. This condition can occur among people of any age but is most common in children younger than five years old because of their immature immune systems, older adults because of deteriorating immune systems, and people with compromised immune systems such as cancer patients. 

People who experience HUS symptoms should immediately seek emergency medical care. People with HUS will likely be hospitalized because the condition can cause other serious and ongoing problems such as hypertension, chronic kidney disease, brain damage, and neurologic problems.

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