Researchers raise awareness of E Coli risk in the countryside
Children and other vulnerable groups should be safeguarded from picking up E coli in the countryside by taking simple precautions.
This is the advice from reserachers on the Rural Economy and Land Use Programme who've been studying how the bacterium behaves in the rural environment, and the part that farmers, abattoirs and the public could play.
Although some of the most high-profile outbreaks of E. coli O157-related disease have been found to originate in contaminated food, since the mid-nineties the bacterium has also been commonly associated with environmental sources, including farm animal faeces and private water supplies.
However, researchers found low awareness of the risks, such as camping in fields where animals have recently been grazing, among visitors to the countryside.
E coli bacteria can also persist on stiles and fence posts, where tourists may be placing their hands when out walking and having picnics.
Some geographical areas seem to have a higher prevalence, perhaps because of varying levels of the bacteria carried by farm animals. For example, the researchers compared Grampian with North Wales and found that people in the Scottish study area were four times more likely to fall ill.
People working in agriculture appear to build up some immunity, but children are at higher risk because of their immature immune systems, so it is particularly important for both rural-dwelling and visiting youngsters to take appropriate precautions.
Dr Norval Strachan from Aberdeen University who led the research has this advice:
"Thorough hand washing is an effective way for an individual to reduce their own risk after going out into the countryside (particularly where there are animals or their faeces) and before eating. We recommend that local and national authorities should take more coordinated action to raise awareness, and targeting carers of young children and those responsible for running playgroups and toddler activities could have a particularly beneficial effect."
A Relu Policy/Practice Brief on this subject can be downlaoded below.