Mother of sick twins condemns E.coli delay

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The Independent Online

The mother of twin boys admitted to hospital with kidney failure after visiting a petting farm in Surrey affected by one of the largest outbreaks of E Coli spoke of her anger today at the failure to close the farm sooner.

Tracey Mock’s two year old sons are among dozens of people infected with the bug, who are thought to have contracted it through contact with animals at Godstone Farm in Surrey.

The twins - Aaron and Todd - are being treated at St Thomas' Hospital, in central London, along with two other children. They are on kidney dialysis but are reported to be in a stable condition.

Speaking from her home in Kent, Ms Mock, 39, said one of the twins had had a blood transfusion and doctors had told her it could be “weeks” before they were well enough to come home.

“I'm just so angry that they allowed the place to stay open.I heard on the news that cases were reported there on August 27 and 28, yet we went there on August 31. Why wasn't it shut down before then? If it had been, my two boys wouldn't be in hospital on dialysis. If the public health authority didn't think it should've been closed, then Godstone Farm should've done it themselves.”

Thirty-six cases of the E.Coli O157 bacterial infection have been confirmed linked with the farm, of which 12 are in children, all under 10. The O157 strain, although rare, is one of the nastiest, particularly in young children, causing diarrhoea, vomiting, and in extreme cases kidney failure and death. The outbreak is believed to have started on August 8 and around 2,000 people a day visit the farm, implying tens of thousands may have been put at risk.

The Health Protection Agency yesterday defended its decision to allow the farm to remain open after the first case was detected on August 27. Contact with high risk animals - lambs, calves and goats - was not stopped until September 3 and environmental health officers did not advise shutting the farm until late on Friday, 11 September. It was finally closed to the public on Saturday 12 September.

Dr Graham Bickler of the HPA said yesterday that experts had acted on the basis of the information available at the time. Halting contact with larger ruminant animals - cows, sheep and goats, who are the main carriers of the infection - had proved effective at controlling outbreaks in the past, and closing farms at the first sign of infection would have been deemed over-reaction.

“We have had cases associated with farms in the past but this is one of the largest. Something has happened here which has led to a large exposure and our investigation over the next few weeks will try to understand exactly what.”

Professor Hugh Pennington, an expert on E Coli, said yesterday children under five should be kept away from ruminant animals - calves, lambs and goats - because young children’s organs are more susceptible to the toxin produced by E.Coli O157.

“The risk is very low - millions visit these farms every year, but the consequences of taking the risk can be catastrophic. The safest way for these farms to proceed and maintain their business would be for them to get rid of the ruminants,” he said.

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb said he would be writing to HPA chief executive Justin McCracken to demand an urgent review into how the case was handled.

“Given the viciousness of E.Coli, it seems extraordinary that the Health Protection Agency didn't take this more seriously and act more quickly,”