Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Now wash your hands please

When I was visiting the countryside last summer I happened to walk through a field that was being used by a youth organisation as a camp site. The youngsters were having a great time, cooking up lunch with great enthusiasm. I'm sure that the adults in charge had drilled them in safety procedures, the dangers of using camping stoves and so on, but I wondered whether they had also considered the risks from the innocent-looking cows and sheep grazing nearby. Our latest policy and practice note has some stark messages about the dangers of E coli O157. We read a lot of headlines about outbreaks that are traced to contaminated food, but increasingly there are dangers lurking in the environment. This source of infection tends not to result in large numbers of cases at any one time, so perhaps receives less coverage in the media, but the dangers are just as great. Children and visitors to the countryside are at higher risk, because they have lower levels of immunity. The bugs come from farm animals, but they are not affected themselves, so those innocent cattle and sheep could very well be carrying the bacteria. Their faeces are all over the field and it doesn't take much imagination to see how infection happens. I wanted to tell those young people to be sure and wash their hands with soap and hot water before touching any food. But I don't suppose it would have had any effect. I suspect that when all the water you use has to be carted from some distance away, there is a temptation not to bother with such precautions.

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