Wednesday, March 07, 2007
The human toll from E. coli
This past week, I had a chance to meet a family that was dramatically affected by the E. coli outbreak in spinach. Sure, like you, I heard the numbers. In fact, I reported that 204 people were affected and that three people had died. But those were numbers. There were real stories behind those numbers. So, who were these people? And, what happens to you if you are afflicted with the bad strain of E. coli? (Watch Video)

Well, seven months ago, Tiffany and Russell Erickson found themselves in the middle of the outbreak. Yes, they ate spinach contaminated with the 0157:H7 strain in Salt Lake City, Utah. The bacteria were then passed on to their two children. The parents recovered, but their 4-year-old child, Regan, became really sick.

He first developed nausea, and then strange puffiness. He started to have awful headaches and hypertension. He was developing one of the most devastating consequences of an E. coli contamination, something known as hemolytic uremic syndrome. His kidneys were shutting down and he needed dialysis. Again, all of this from spinach. He will recover and survive, but will most likely have problems for the rest of his life.

What is most difficult to comprehend is that our food is really no safer now than a year ago. The USDA and FDA are responsible for the food safety, but they have no definitive authority to recall food off the shelves - that is only done voluntarily. And, we have no way of knowing for sure that the food supply won't get contaminated again. Most people still don't worry about food safety, fully convinced it won't happen to them. The Erickson, family, though, used to think the same thing.

So, what do you think should be done to try and make our food supply safer?
Hi Dr. Gupta,
Maybe small farms should make a comeback. Get big business, out of the business of our food supply. Our farmland is going, going, nearly gone here in California. That is a frightening prospect, that shows no end. Take Care
Cut out these factory farms. Huge farms gotta go, get back to small, local organic farms. Besides fresher is better for health. Trucking food across the country just isn't the best way. Common sense.
First, we should not give up on natural farming
methods. We need more education, research, and better affordable healthcare.

Remember when all Middle School children had to take something called "Home Economics" which included such things as cooking, shopping, and food handling? I think of my daughter's generation not knowing anything about pulagra, for example.

People need a full warning of the dangers. Quick and widely available lab tests should be done in case there is a problem, so that antibiotic treatment may be started before there is any possibility of kidney failure (and free healthcare would help low income people to have such a test).

I also had a co-worker whose kidneys failed after coming down with e-coli from water at a local county fair. Nobody warned her after her first symptoms; she didn't know why she had back pains. Now she must be on dialysis for the rest of her life.
Dr. Gupta,

You came very, very close with your report on e-coli. But the real problem originates with corn. Enormous amounts of corn are fed to the cattle on super-farms and it encourages them to grow big, grow fast. The problem is, corn is not a natural staple in their diet. It results in the creation of extremely acidic environments in their digestive systems. E-coli is slowly becoming resistant to acidic environments. Normally, our own stomach acids are sufficient to kill off e-coli. But the acid resistant strains are those that are getting into the food chain (via fertilizer) and causing the worst of the e-coli outbreaks among humans. I know this because I raise cattle organically, as "range fed" animals. High profits and exaggerated growth rates (and corn) lie at the heart of the overall problem in this regard. thank you, R.C. Hamilton
Blairsville, PA 15717
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