A bad time down on the farm - Health News - Health & Families - The Independent

A bad time down on the farm

Parents were warned not to take young children on to working farms with livestock this weekend because of the risk of being infected with the O157 strain of E. coli bacteria.

Hugh Pennington, professor of bacteriology at the University of Aberdeen, said that children under five were at the highest risk of the serious and life-threatening complications that can arise from E. coli infections. He said that many farmyard animals, especially cattle, were carriers of the deadly O157 strain and small children were particularly vulnerable to being infected through contaminated manure.

Professor Pennington said it was not easy to supervise children under five when visiting a farm and it was relatively easy for them to touch animals orobjects that are smeared with manure and then put their hands to their mouths.

"If you take children under five they have to be heavily supervised and hand-held all the time because on the one hand they are more likely to get the complications from E. coli O1571 and on the other they are more difficult to control when they are toddlers," the professor said.

E. coli infections in very young children can quickly cause damage to kidneys and the brain for which there is no effective treatment. "If they get infected there is very little we can do to stop the complications happening," he said.

In January, the family of a six-year-old boy who was left severely brain damaged after contracting the bug during a visit to a Hertfordshire farm settled out of court with the farm.

Professor Pennington said infection was rare, but when it did occur, "the roof can fall in". "It's an unusual bug in that it can lead to complications that can have a permanent, damaging effect," he said. "It's a bit like meningitis. It's a rare infection but prevention is the name of the game. Once you've got it, you're in the lap of the gods as far as recovery is concerned because medical treatment does not really affect the success of dealing with these medical complications."

Professor Pennington is a world authority on E. coli O157 and led the government inquiry into the outbreak in Lanarkshire, central Scotland, which in 1996-97 claimed the lives of 21 people infected through eating contaminated meat.

He told The Independent that although the risks associated with visiting farms might be small, the consequences of being infected are so serious that many parents of young children should consider avoiding farms altogether. "It does boil down to a relative risk, andthe risk is small but it can be catastrophic. It's balancing an uncommon event because many people visit farms and only a few get infected. However, it is there as a real risk and the consequences can be lethal or lead to lifelong problems, such as brain or kidney damage," he said.

Although normal strains of E. coli are perfectly harmless, the O157 strain produces a highly dangerous toxin. The strain was first identified in the United States in the Seventies and appeared in Britain a few years later, where it has spread rapidly to cause more than 1,300 cases of human food poisoning a year.

"I have been involved in one or two high-profile cases where kids have been permanently damaged, which is maybe partly why I'm taking kind of a hard line on this," Professor Pennington said. "Until we can get better ways of preventing the complications, we really do have to concentrate on prevention and this seems a fairly logical way of doing it."

The professor said that children's zoos and ornamental farms where only small animals such as ducks, chickens and rabbits can be touched were not in the same league as a working farm with a milking herd. Chicken and ducks do not carry the O157 strain and although they can be infected with salmonella, it is less easy for this microbe to be transmitted and even if it does, any resulting illness is far less serious.

"All the evidence to date suggests that direct contact with animals, such as patting them, is a particular risk. Young calves are the highest risk animals," Professor Pennington said.

"Just going into the country itself is nowhere near as important a risk factor as going on to a farm and coming into contact with these particular animals. It all comes down to getting manure on your hands, basically, and putting hands into your mouth."

It is possible to control older children and make sure they wash their hands with warm water and soap but younger children pose a far more difficult problem of supervision.

Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape
music
News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Voices
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
filmMatt Damon in talks to return
News
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Life and Style
tech... and together they're worth at least £100 million
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig is believed to be donning skies as 007 for the first time
Arts and Entertainment
Fringe show: 'Cilla', with Sheridan Smith in the title role and Aneurin Barnard as her future husband Bobby Willis
tvEllen E Jones on ITV's 'Cilla'
Life and Style
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
tech(but you can't escape: Bono is always on your iPhone)
Sport
Tim Wiese
sport
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Bookkeeper / Accounts Administrator - Central London, £30-40k

    £30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Bookkeeper - Central London, £30-40k...

    Permanent KS2 Teacher required

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Ilford: A Redbridge based Primary School is see...

    NVQ Assessor Level 2 & 3 Sport Development

    £19200 - £26880 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: In NVQ Ass...

    Secondary supply teachers required in Newmarket

    £21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Secondary supply teac...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week