10-million hit by stomach upsets

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ALMOST 10-MILLION people are struck by stomach bugs each year - more than 100 times more than recorded in official statistics. The first national survey of the impact of intestinal disease has found that one in five of the population contracts an infection that causes diarrhoea and vomiting although only a fraction of those bother to visit their GP.

A survey of 10,000 people commissioned by the health department has shown that for every 136 cases of infection only one was reported to the Government's Public Health Laboratory Service. The study was begun in 1993 in response to concerns that the toll of illness caused by food poisoning was much higher than official figures suggested. Many, but not all, of the infections were caused by food bugs, such as salmonella, but the results do not show how many.

Dr Roger Skinner, head of the health department's food safety branch, said: "Those bacteria we know are responsible for food borne infections give rise to a substantial burden of illness. The Government needs to drive home the key messages on food hygiene from farm to plate."

In at least 40 per cent of cases of illness, no infectious organism was found. The researchers say this may be because too few organisms were present to be picked up in the tests or that there are new stomach bugs not yet identified which are causing illness.

t The British specialist specialist involved in the world's first successful hand transplant, performed in France last year, said yesterday he was ready to do a similar operation in the UK. Nadey Hakim, surgical director at St Mary's Hospital, west London, said: "I am putting together a protocol to do [the operation] in London. The only question is when."