Twenty infected by new E.coli outbreak

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At least 20 people have now been infected and two have died in the E.coli food poisoning outbreak in Arbroath it was confirmed yesterday, as new scientific evidence suggested that some yoghurts could protect against the bacterium.

Blood tests on residents and staff at the Tayside town's Cairnie Lodge Home have confirmed 11 further cases of exposure to the E.coli 0157 bug.

Local MPs yesterday demanded a statement from the Secretary of State for Scotland, Michael Forsyth, as fears grew that more lives could be at risk among the elderly residents who are most vulnerable to the bacterium.

Two women have died and another 83-year-old is giving "cause for concern" in the Infectious Diseases Unit at King's Cross Hospital in Dundee. An 84-year-old man also being treated at the hospital is described as "comfortable".

Tayside Health Board said that the 11 new cases did not mean the outbreak was growing, and that all the cases were symptomless so far, and being closely monitored.

Meanwhile scientists at the Institute of Food Research in Reading said that micro- organisms called bifidobacteria, found in some commercially available yoghurts, "fought off" E.coli in laboratory experiments. According to a report in New Scientist magazine, bifidobacterium occur naturally in the human intestine, but levels fall rapidly as people get older.

Glen Gibson, a scientist at the Institute said: "As bifidobacteria populations decline, those of potentially harmful bacteria, such as E.coli and Streptococcus surge." However, he warned that eating live yoghurt may not solve the problem. "It's asking a lot for them to get right through the gut to the large intestine."