Unusual E. coli Outbreak in UK Traced to Beef Products

by Ella

A recent report has linked a serious outbreak of E. coli in the United Kingdom in 2023 to meat products made from ground (minced) beef. The outbreak, caused by a rare type of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC), was detected by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) in June 2023.

According to research published in the journal Microbial Genomics, there were 27 confirmed cases and one probable case associated with the outbreak. The affected individuals were spread across England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, with onset dates between May 22 and July 4, 2023.


Of the cases, 24 were infected with E. coli O183, ranging in age from six months to 74 years old. Eleven cases were children aged 0 to 9 years. The symptoms included severe gastrointestinal issues, with 17 individuals reporting bloody stools and eight requiring hospital care. Tragically, one person developed Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS), a severe complication that can lead to kidney failure, and one death was reported. However, the exact role of the STEC infection in the death remains uncertain.


Efforts to identify the source of the outbreak included a detailed food history questionnaire with confirmed cases. While strawberries, pasteurized milk, hard cheeses, chicken, and beef were commonly reported items, investigations focused on beef products, including burgers and ground beef cooked at home. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) initiated a food chain investigation to trace common suppliers and processors, but the complex nature of the beef industry supply lines presented challenges, and the contaminated food source was not confirmed.


Despite inconclusive findings, researchers implicated meat products made from ground beef as a potential vehicle for the outbreak. The strain of E. coli involved had the Shiga toxin subtype stx2a but lacked established adherence factors associated with STEC infections. E. coli O183 is an exceptionally rare serotype, with only 15 cases reported in the UK since 2016.


Researchers suggested that this strain of STEC may have been recently imported into the UK or may represent a domestic strain that acquired genetic elements from an external source. The long-term implications of STEC O183
on public health remain uncertain.

In conclusion, the study underscores the importance of improved surveillance systems and traceback strategies within the food industry to identify and mitigate emerging threats to public health.



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