How to explain the increase in the number of serious contaminations of children with the bacterium Escherichia coli (E. coli)? This is the question that Public Health France wants to answer, which is opening an investigation after the suspicious death of a child suffering from hemolytic and uremic syndrome (HUS) linked to E. coli.
What is it about ? HUS is a complication of an episode of often bloody diarrhea, which can cause acute kidney failure. HUS is manifested by diarrhea accompanied by blood, abdominal pain and vomiting.
These symptoms can progress to a severe form of the infection, potentially serious for young children, about a week after contamination.
13 cases since early January
The suspicious death, of which neither the date nor the age of the child have been communicated by Public Health France, occurs in a context of an increase in cases of pediatric HUS in France. Thus, 13 cases of this syndrome linked to E. coli in children aged 1 to 15 have occurred in France since January 1, 2022.
Five cases in the New Aquitaine region, three in Hauts-de-France, three in Ile-de-France, one in Brittany and one in Pays de la Loire, lists the health agency.
Find the source of contamination
The Public Health France investigation covers all cases of pediatric HUS reported since January 1, 2022, including 31 suspected cases still under investigation. It aims to “identify a possible common source of contamination and implement appropriate measures“, according to a statement from the agency.
“At this stage, the epidemiological investigation does not exclude any leads“, indicates the health authority. Several sources of potential contamination are thus explored: the ingestion of contaminated food eaten raw or undercooked, contamination by soiled hands brought to the mouth, contamination after touching animals carrying the bacteria or their contaminated environment, but also contact with a sick person who excretes the bacteria in their stool.
Simple actions against contamination
Each year, between 100 and 165 children with HUS are notified to Public Health France, which has set up a surveillance system for this disease since 1996. To prevent this disease, increased vigilance must be paid to two categories of food : minced meat and products made from raw milk.
In general, simple gestures such as washing hands before preparing meals, washing fruits, vegetables and aromatic herbs, or even storing raw and cooked foods separately help to avoid food contamination.