You may have heard that E. coli can spread through undercooked chicken, red meat or other food. According to new research, however, poor toilet hygiene is more likely to be the route of transmission.
E. coli introduction
E. coli, or Escherichia coli, is a type of bacteria that normally lives in our intestines, so as in some animals. Most types of E. coli are harmless and even help keep your gut environment and digestive tract healthy, but some can cause diseases.
The diseases caused by E. coli vary from diarrhea to pneumonia, urinary tract infections (UTIs), and infections after gut surgery. The most serious situation would be bloodstream infections caused by E. coli.
The most antibiotic-resistant E. coli are strains with “extended Spectrum Beta-Lactamases” (ESBLs). ESBLs refer to enzymes that can destroy many important penicillin, cephalosporin, and other antibiotics.
However, how these superbugs spread was not revealed until now.
How E. coli spread
Scientists want to know if the strains of E. coli that can cause bloodstream infections are picked up via the food chain or passed from person to person. To answer the question, they sequenced the genomes of resistant E. coli from multiple sources across the UK:
Human bloodstream infections
Animal slurry and meat, including beef, pork and chicken
Fruit and salad
The results showed that the E. coli from human blood, faeces and sewerage samples were similar, while E. coli from human and other creatures were largely different. As the short conclusion, little crossover of ESBL-E. coli was found from animals to humans.
“Infections caused by ESBL-E. coli bacteria are difficult to treat… Mortality rates among people infected with these superbug strains are double those of people infected with strains that’re susceptible to treatment.” Said Prof David Livermore.
The research results suggest that the great majority of strains of ESBL-E. coli causing human infections spreads directly from person to person, not from eating undercooked chicken or anything else in the food chain.
"Rather—and unpalatably—the likeliest route of transmission for ESBL-E. coli is directly from human to human, with faecal particles from one person reaching the mouth of another.” Livermore said, which means the superbugs are mainly transmitted through toilets.
What you should do
You need to carry on cooking chicken well and never to alternately handle raw meat and salad. There are plenty of important food-poisoning bacteria, including other strains of E. coli that go down the food chain. But as for ESBL-E. coli, the most important thing is to wash your hands after going to the toilet.
What’s more, it’s particularly important to have good hygiene in care homes, as the most of the severe E. coli infections occur among the elderly.