The United Kingdom’s Health Protection Agency (HPA) may designate E. coli as a “notifiable disease,” promoting the bug to the ranks of smallpox and measles, in order to improve the detection of outbreaks, reports The Independent.
If E. coli’s status is raised to notifiable status, doctors would have a “statutory duty to alert the relevant authorities if they suspected cases of the illnesses,” according to the report.
The move came as the E. coli O157 outbreak linked to a petting farm in Surrey reached 57. That number reached 64 today as seven more cases were linked to the farm.
According to the report, the agency began considering whether E. coli should be reclassified before this outbreak, as part of a series of changes it is making to the infectious diseases section in the UK’s Public Health Act.
“We should be looking at the widening of the notifiable disease system [in relation to E. coli O157]. This would allow us to pick things up early, to act early and to prevent others from falling ill,” Jenny Morris, of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, told The Independent.
The HPA’s Epidemiological Data on England and Wales shows the incidence of E. coli has increased from 361 in 1991 to 948 last year. According to The Independent, open farming accounts for around 2 percent of E. coli cases.
In the U.S. there have been over two dozen E. coli outbreaks related to petting zoos and animal exhibits in the past 20 years. In response to these problems, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published recommendations for animal petting operations to try to mitigate outbreaks, and several states have enacted laws to mandate public health precautions.