E. coli may become notifiable disease after farm outbreak

Cases linked to family attraction in Surrey rise to 57 as lawyer prepares class action against owners

E. coli could be upgraded to a "notifiable disease" – on a par with infections like smallpox and measles – to speed up detecting outbreaks.

News of the development came as the number of cases of E. coli O157 linked to Godstone Farm in Surrey yesterday reached 57. The count is three times the normal rate of 15 to 20 cases that the Health Protection Agency (HPA) attributes to open or petting farms in England and Wales each year.

The Department of Health began consulting before the latest scare on whether the potentially fatal illness – cases of which have almost trebled in the past two decades – should be re-classified as part of changes made to the list of notifiable diseases under the Public Health Act. A change in status would mean doctors would have a statutory duty to alert the relevant authorities if they suspected cases of the illness.

Jenny Morris, principal policy officer at the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, said: "We should be looking at the widening of the notifiable disease system [in relation to E. coli O157]. This would allow us to pick things up early, to act early and prevent others falling ill."

The HPA reported that 10 children linked to the outbreak at Godstone Farm, which closed last Saturday, were "stable and improving" in hospital. None was said to be seriously ill.

A leading personal injury lawyer, Jill Greenfield, a partner at Field Fisher Waterhouse, has received instruction from a family involved and expects a class action. In 2001, she represented Tom Dowling, who was awarded damages of £2.6m after he contracted E. coli as a four-year-old during a school trip to a north London farm in 1997, which resulted in his becoming quadriplegic and brain damaged. His was the third case of E. coli at the farm within a few months.

World of Country Life in Exmouth, Devon, on Friday became the fourth open farm to close in the wake of the Godstone Farm outbreak after the HPA found a potential link to three cases of E. coli. White Post Farm in Nottinghamshire remains shut, after two visitors suffered from the same strain of the illness. Godstone Farm's sister farm, Horton Park Children's Farm, is also closed. An HPA spokeswoman said it was "very unusual" for four farms to be closed in a week. Cases of E. coli O157 in England and Wales have soared from 361 in 1991 to 950 in 2008. Open farming was linked to around 2 per cent of last year's outbreaks.

Professor Hugh Pennington, an expert on E. coli, said: "I'm really unhappy about under-fives touching ruminants, because it's impossible to make sure they don't have manure on their coats and it's really difficult to stop them putting their fingers straight in their mouths." He added that farms "must review their processes", including putting up "bold" signs explaining why children should wash their hands, changing their layout if necessary and keeping track of where manure goes.

"We owe it to the kids to protect them from what is a serious problem," he said. "E. coli O157 is a very unusual bug in that it can kill and it's not treatable. Once a child is infected, you just have to wait and see what happens." The expert warned that "we may see some more" cases, adding those that might not be reported were probably coming to light as parents were taking sick children to the doctor with samples being sent for testing.

The Department of Health will report on the consultation findings later this year.

News
peoplePaper attempts to defend itself
Voices
voicesWe desperately need men to be feminists too
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
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
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

    Account Executive/Sales Consultant – Permanent – Hertfordshire - £16-£20k

    £16500 - £20000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

    KS2 PPA Teacher needed (Mat Cover)- Worthing!

    £100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: KS2 PPA Teacher currently nee...

    IT Systems Manager

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

    IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

    £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

    Day In a Page

    Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

    Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

    ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
    Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

    Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

    Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
    'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
    BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

    BBC Television Centre

    A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum