Scottish uneasy about E. coli outbreak
November 28, 1996
Web posted at: 9:30 p.m. EST
From Correspondent Margaret Lowrie
WISHAW, Scotland (CNN) -- People in this hard-pressed industrial town are devastated by the unfolding crisis in their midst. The suspected source of the deadly E. coli 0157 outbreak in Scotland is a butcher shop in this small southern town.
"You never know who is gonna be next," said one man on the street.
The Scottish Office, the British government agency in charge of Scotland, confirmed 116 people in total have reported symptoms.
An 80 year-old man and an elderly woman died Tuesday, and two more adults -- a 69-year old man and 79 year-old woman -- died early Wednesday.
Regional health authorities believe gravy and meat pies caused most of the area's cases.
"If you contract E. coli from eating meat it is because it has been contaminated and then inadequately cooked," said health official John Cowden, "or because it has been cooked and subsequently contaminated. And of course foods other than meat may be contaminated after cooking. Cross contamination can take place with cheese, to vegetables, anything..."
Last weekend authorities first warned of a suspected link between J. Barr and Son's, one of the most popular butcher shops in the area, and the outbreak.
Now, authorities face criticism for not informing the public sooner about the possibility of contaminated products from Barr's being sold in other outlets.
"Is it not, in denying people the information which may prevent illness or even death ... a willful and arrogant disregard for public health and public safety?" asked British Parliament Member George Robertson.
But Scottish health officials insist they acted as quickly as they could on the information as it became available.
"You may say 'why didn't we...'," said Lanarkshire Environmental Official Graham Bryceland, "but it could have sent the wrong message to put together a list too soon."
Scotland has the highest E. coli infection rate in Britain. An outbreak near here two years ago affected some 100 people. But this outbreak has already surpassed that to become Britain's deadliest E. coli epidemic.
E. coli-0157 was first identified in Britain in the mid- 1980's.
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