New Strains of E. coli

Scientific American (August 2011) has provided us with some facts regarding E. coli and the new strains:

Antibiotics can worsen an E. coli infection. Giving antibiotics, including Cipro, can kill a patient who has been sickened by any strain of Shiga toxin E. coli. The reason: when the bacteria die, they release the toxin in massive amounts. Fortunately, carbapenem antibiotics, seems to not trigger such a major toxin release, but these drugs are usually only prescribed in special circumstances.

E. coli O104:H4 is resistant to at least 14 antibiotics. Nobody knows why, because many of 14 are not typically used to treat E. coli infections. This means that either this bacteria, or one it has swapped genes with, must have developed in an environment that was full of antibiotics—most likely a hospital or a farm.

The original E. coli, O157:H7, is no longer a threat (in the USA), due to the government requiring food producers to test and report any outbreaks. However reporting outbreaks of the new, more dangerous strains is not yet mandatory!