Page last updated at 02:25 GMT, Monday, 12 September 2005 03:25 UK

Concern over deadly E.coli strain

E.coli bacteria can cause serious infection

Better monitoring of a deadly antibiotic-resistant strain of E.coli is needed as it threatens to spread more rapidly, government advisers say.

The Health Protection Agency said GPs needed to report every suspected case, and mandatory surveillance similar to the MRSA scheme should be considered.

It is not known how many cases a year there are but an outbreak in Shropshire in 2003-4 has been linked to 10 deaths.

The government said it would consider the report into the "emerging problem".

E.coli are one of the most common bacteria causing infections, particularly urinary tract infections. They are also the second most common cause of blood poisoning.

Most of the infections have been in elderly people who are already sick with other underlying medical conditions
Georgia Duckworth, of the Health Protection Agency

Data from E.coli blood poisoning - which has doubled in the last decade to more than 17,000 cases a year in the community and hospitals - shows that antibiotic resistance has increased from 2% of cases to 6% from 2001 to 2004.

It is likely this has been caused by a particular strain of the bug known as ESBL-producing E.coli, the Health Protection Agency (HPA) said.

But the full picture is far from known as there is no surveillance of the strain and monitoring of urinary tract infections is patchy.

The HPA said urinary tract infection needed to be monitored and GPs must report cases as part of standard procedure.

The independent advisory body also called for more research into the understanding of risk factors and how the infection is transmitted.

There is evidence that the ESBL-producing E.coli could be carried in the gut, which could mean the food chain is a potential source.


Dr Georgia Duckworth, of the HPA's Centre for Infections, said: "Most of the infections have been in elderly people who are already sick with other underlying medical conditions."

And HPA chief executive Pat Troop urged caution over the use of antibiotics.

"The use of antibiotics by both the medical and veterinary professions is one contribution to the appearance of new antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the community and hospitals.

"It is important that antibiotics are used only when necessary, in the right dose and for the correct duration."

Simon Williams, director of policy at the Patients Association, said the increasing prevalence of infections was "concerning" for patients.

"We expect the government to give a clear lead on this. Patients do not expect to become ill from such infections."

A Department of Health spokeswoman said it would consider the report and look to "improve surveillance and control the impact on patients".

She added: "This is a useful summary of the current situation and reflects the considerable amount of work that the HPA has put into alerting the NHS and Department of Health to this emerging problem."

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