George Griffin, Professor of Infectious Diseases and Medicine at St. George’s University of London and Chair of the Advisory Committee on Dangerous Pathogens, will lead the investigation into the outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 at Godstone Farm.
The United Kingdom’s Health Protection Agency’s (HPA) Board agreed to the “terms of reference” for Professor Griffin’s investigation yesterday.
It made the decision on a day when three children remain in Surrey area hospitals in stable conditions as the total number infected with E. coli O157:H7 from the petting farm animals rose to 87.
The independent external investigation was set up to investigate the outbreak of E.coli O157 at Godstone Farm, the factors that contributed to it and its subsequent handling.
HPA knew of Godstone’s E. coli problem as early as Aug. 8, 2009, but did not close the farm with petting zoo attractions until Sept. 12, 2009. Parents of some of the victims have asked why.
Justin McCracken, the HPA’s Chief Executive told the Board: “Our aim in setting up this investigation is to make recommendations to reduce the risk of contracting E.coli O157 in those who visit open1 farms and improve the health protection response to future outbreaks of this organism.”
The terms of reference agreed by the Board are:
1. Purpose of the investigation– In August 2009 there was an outbreak of E.coli O157 leading to severe illness in a number of visitors to Godstone Farm in Surrey.
The Health Protection Agency has established an independent investigation of the outbreak, the factors that contributed to it and its subsequent handling. The aim is to make recommendations to reduce the risk of contracting E. coli O157 in those who visit open farms and improve the health protection response to future outbreaks of this organism.
2. Scope of the investigation –The investigation will look into the factors that contributed to the cause of the Godstone Farm outbreak and into its subsequent handling by the Health Protection Agency and others. This will include, but not be limited to:
a) The characteristics of E.coli O157 and factors affecting its transmission from animals to humans in the context of open farms
b) The standards, which apply to the operation of open farms (including relevant guidance and how this was made operational)
c) The operation of Godstone Farm with reference to these standards
d) The regulatory oversight of open farms in general and Godstone Farm in particular
e) The responses to the outbreak from all those involved following the identification of illness in people who had visited Godstone Farm (including the advice given by the Health Protection Agency)
f) The responses to other recent outbreaks of E.coli O157, which have been linked to similar, open farm facilities.
The investigation will consider any lessons to be learned from the experiences and best practice of the devolved administrations, and relevant evidence from public authorities in other countries.
The Board of the Health Protection Agency anticipates that the families of those affected by the outbreak may wish to provide input to the investigation.
3. Conduct of the investigation – The investigation will be led by Professor George Griffin, Professor of Infectious Diseases and Medicine at St George’s, University of London, who will report to the Board of the Health Protection Agency.
The Health Protection Agency will afford Professor Griffin the access and resources he requires to conduct the investigation as he sees fit.
4. Reporting –The final report of the investigation will be made openly available to the public.
Pending the final report, any interim recommendations requiring urgent action to protect public health will be published as soon as possible.
After Godstone closed, four other similar businesses in the UK also either closed or shut their animal petting attractions down.