E Coli 0157, Farms and Children – Call for an Accreditation Scheme
The owner of Huntleys Country Stores in Samlesbury, near Preston, recently pleaded guilty at Preston Crown Court to health and safety charges levied at them after 11 people contracted E.coli 0157 after visiting his farm shop in April 2014.
Many of those who became ill were children. Children are particularly vulnerable to the E Coli 0157 bacteria and the consequences can be grave.
E Coli 0157 is a particularly nasty bug which is passed onto humans through animal faeces. It need to be ingested, so exposure is hand to mouth. Exposure to just 10 organisms is enough to make someone ill; compare that to the many 1,000s needed for salmonella. Once the devastating bacteria get into a child's system, there is no treatment other than IV fluids to endeavour to stop the dehydration. Antibiotics can even make it worse.
E Coli 0157 attacks the kidneys and can lead to renal failure - Haemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS). At its worst, HUS can cause brain damage and even death. If the child has developed HUS then it means that they have renal damage. Of course that child has a lot of growing to do and the question then is will the child's kidney be able to support them as they grow up? The risk of future renal failure is a very real one and that of course is devastating.
The most common protection at farm events like these is to ask anyone handling animals to wash their hands. The difficulty is that E Coli 0157 cannot be seen. Bacterial gels do not necessarily work and the children will probably have it on their clothes etc., It first emerged in the 1980's following a huge outbreak in the US. This is a superbug and not at all like the E coli that we all carry in our stomachs and which is safe.
Jill Greenfield, a partner at Fieldfisher law firm, who is acting for 4 of the families whose children became ill at the farm shop says that these types of precautions do not go far enough.
"For those who think hand washing is enough, please think again. Children are at the same height as the pens in which the animals are kept. Their shoes and clothes pick up everything around them. They drop their toys and put them and their fingers into their mouths without thinking. Hand washing is clearly sensible advice, but it is not the solution."
Ms Greenfield, who herself has an 8-year old son, is critical of the Government's lack of action in protecting children who visit these type of open farm all around the country.
"We should have learnt our lesson from an outbreak many years ago at Bowmans Open farm. A young boy suffered catastrophic brain damage following a school trip to a farm in which he contracted E Coli 0157 and which led to his ultimate death some years later. Then came the Godstone Farm outbreak in 2009, which led to 93 people being affected by E Coli 0157. Many were hospitalised, with the children needing to go onto dialysis."
Ms Greenfield explained.
The Government had the chance to listen to the Griffin Inquiry after the Godstone outbreak. It concluded that while the risk to children was small, it was extremely serious and new guidance should be issued. One of the key recommendations of this guidance was the introductions of a Regulatory Framework that would ensure that Farm safety was properly assessed and which called for the introduction of national accreditation scheme for Open Farms. These recommendations were not followed. They would have meant that all farms open to children would know about all the precautions needed to ensure that such visits were as safe as possible. It is well known the a deep bedding system (straw piled on top of old and soiled straw over days) will easily harbour bacteria. Letting children into pens and throwing straw around and feeding the animals just should not happen and yet it did at Huntley's Country Stores. If proper regulation had been in place then the Huntley's outbreak may never have happened.
Jill Greenfield Interviewed Live on BBC Lancashire on the Huntley's Country Stores Ecoli Outbreak
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