A rise in Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) infections has prompted a warning by health officials in the Czech Republic.

The National Institute of Public Health (SZU) reported that in the first six months of this year 25 cases have been recorded and 15 of them occurred in the past two months.

Eight were reported in May and seven in June. That is more than half of all cases so far in 2022. The majority of those sick are children under the age of five. In 2021, 46 cases were recorded.

Sick people come from across the country but mostly Prague, the South Moravian and South Bohemian regions. Twelve infections were caused by E. coli O26 and six by E. coli O157.

People can become infected by contact with animals, eating insufficiently cooked meat, drinking unpasteurized milk, or by contact with an infected person.

Summer increase
SZU said the disease is often associated with seasonal activities, such as barbecues, or visits to animal farms or zoos. The agency urged people to pay attention to hygiene and correct food preparation.

Since 2018, 165 STEC infections have been reported in the Czech Republic, and 47 people were hospitalized. Of these, 37 were children under 5 years old and one died.

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. The time it takes to start having symptoms after being infected is usually three to four days and most patients recover within five to seven days.

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. 

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. 

SZPI annual report
Meanwhile, the Czech Agriculture and Food Inspection Authority (SZPI) has disclosed almost a quarter of foodstuffs checked were non-compliant in 2021.

The annual report covers food supplements, checks of online food sales, honey, olive oil and saffron authenticity and ethylene oxide in spices and sesame seeds.

The agency found 3,202 non-compliant lots of food and other products. Almost 27 percent of foodstuffs from non-EU countries failed to comply with national or European legislation. Nearly 20 percent of lots from EU countries had violations as well as 16.2 percent of domestic products. The highest percentage of non-compliant batches was chocolate and confectionery; dehydrated products, liquid flavorings, dressings, salt and mustard.

The main category found to be microbiologically unsafe were meat products, followed by milk products and bakery. The top safety violation was the growth of visible mold and spoiling due to microbial activity.

Salmonella was discovered in five batches of fresh chicken and two batches of meat-based ready-to-cook food. Vibrio parahaemolyticus was found in two batches of shrimp. Listeria monocytogenes was detected in three batches of delicatessen products from a production plant.

Shiga toxin-producing E. coli or enteropathogenic E. coli (EPEC) was found in three batches of steak tartare on the market and also in one cold dish of steak tartare from a restaurant. EPEC was also detected in sprouted radish seeds from the market. Campylobacter was detected in two batches of ready-made hot kebab and doner meals.

In 2021, 2,407 administrative proceedings against food businesses were concluded, in which fines totaling $3.8 million were handed out. SZPI imposed 11,285 bans on the marketing of foodstuffs this past year, and the value of the banned items amounted to $2.5 million.

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