Two confirmed cases of E. coli O157 infection have been linked to a farm in England.

Acton Scott Historic Working Farm in Shropshire temporarily closed this past week to take precautionary measures to reduce the risk of visitors becoming infected. The steps include providing more handwashing facilities and improving safety information about feeding and touching animals.

Members of the Public Health England (PHE) West Midlands Health Protection Team and environmental health colleagues from Shropshire Council are involved in the investigation at the farm, which is owned by the council. No information was provided about the patients.

Risk from farm visits
Dr. Adrian Phillips, consultant with PHE West Midlands Health Protection Team, said E. coli O157  can cause illness ranging from mild symptoms to severe bloody diarrhea. It can also lead to kidney failure and death in severe cases.

“The farm has multiple hand sanitizer points across the site to help protect from coronavirus; however, if people have been touching things which could be infected with E. coli, including touching farm animals, handwashing with warm water and soap is necessary to prevent stomach bugs,” he said.

“During spring and summer, especially over holiday periods, there is generally an increase in gastrointestinal infections which are often associated with a range of activities including farm or park visits, where infections can be picked up by handling or stroking animals. Good hand hygiene for all, and supervised hand hygiene for small children, is essential to minimize the risk of developing a stomach bug.”

Cecilia Motley, Shropshire Council’s cabinet member responsible for leisure said once it was informed of a possible E. coli link, the decision was taken to temporarily close the farm.

“We are using this time to explore the work that is needed to meet the requirements to keep everyone safe. Work will include things like more handwashing facilities, extra training for staff and better signage, along with other alterations to how the farm operates. Until such time as measures can be put in place the farm will remain closed.”

PHE advice includes washing hands after going to the toilet and before preparing food or eating, keep hot food hot and cold food cold, don’t eat or drink or put fingers in your mouth while near animals or before washing hands, ensure small children are supervised when washing hands with hot water, soap and paper towels and clean shoes and pushchair wheels before leaving the farm and ahead of entering the car and your home.

About E. coli infections
Anyone who has developed symptoms of E. coli infection should seek medical attention and tell their doctor about possible exposure to the bacteria. Specific tests are required to diagnose the infections, which can mimic other illnesses.

The symptoms of E. coli infections vary for each person but often include severe stomach cramps and diarrhea, which is often bloody. Some patients may also have a fever. Most patients recover within five to seven days. Others can develop severe or life-threatening symptoms and complications, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

About 5 to 10 percent of those diagnosed with E. coli infections develop a potentially life-threatening kidney failure complication, known as a hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). Symptoms of HUS include fever, abdominal pain, feeling very tired, decreased frequency of urination, small unexplained bruises or bleeding, and pallor.

Many people with HUS recover within a few weeks, but some suffer permanent injuries or death. This condition can occur among people of any age but is most common in children younger than five years old because of their immature immune systems, older adults because of deteriorating immune systems, and people with compromised immune systems such as cancer patients.

People who experience HUS symptoms should immediately seek emergency medical care. People with HUS will likely be hospitalized because the condition can cause other serious and ongoing problems such as hypertension, chronic kidney disease, brain damage, and neurologic problems.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)