Jun 6, 2011 in Blog Articles

The number of deaths caused by the E coli infection in Germany has risen to 22 with over 2000 people ill. The latest theory as to the possible cause is bean sprouts and other sprout varieties from a farm in the Uelzen area of northern Germany. Whether this proves to be so or not is academic. What is of concern is that the possible farming methods used may have allowed this particular strain of E coli to contaminate the crops.In my blog “Possible Cause of German E Coli Outbreak is Contaminated Water” I suggested that irrigation water used may have been sourced from untreated wastewater or else it may have been animal waste slurry or farmyard manure (FYM) used to fertilize crops.The following information regarding the risks of contaminated manure, slurry etc is sourced from the US National Centre for Biotechnology Information (NCBI): “The causative agents of nearly all infectious diseases are excreted either directly or indirectly by the infected animals. In many cases they leave the animals’ body with the faeces. In most cases the pathogenic agents end up on the floor of the animal housing. Thus they can be found in the farm-yard manure or in the slurry. The danger of infection by slurry is only assumed but not yet sufficiently quantified. To reduce the assumed risk of any slurry an expert group of the European Communities has elaborated recommendations for long-term storage and agricultural utilization of slurry.””The pathogens do not survive very long in stored farmyard manure because of the temperatures and biological and biochemical activities prevailing in the middens. But the conditions in slurry are different because the temperature does not rise and biochemical activity is low. Therefore the pathogens survive for rather long periods in slurry. To avoid disease transfer by utilisation of manure and slurry as fertilisers, certain precautions are necessary and these are described in detail. The agricultural utilisation of municipal sewage sludge is common in many countries. However, these sludges contain pathogens which are excreted by the human population served by the sewers and sewage treatment plants. In the sewage purification processes most of the pathogens are reduced in number but not completely eliminated. They are enriched by sedimentation processes in the sewage sludge.”So it would seem entirely possible that the current E coli crisis may have been caused because proper care of the manure or slurry was not taken to ensure that it was pathogen free prior to usage. If there is a new strain of E coli responsible for the outbreak scientists will no doubt be checking to see whether or not the bacterium is low inoculum (a few hundred cells) which is all that may be necessary to trigger disease.