A cheese made from raw milk has been linked to half a dozen serious E. coli infections in France.

Six cases of hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) have been reported. HUS is a severe complication associated with E. coli infections that causes kidney failure. 

Following severe diarrhea, young children attending the Minimes crèche in Toulouse had to be hospitalized in November. Stool cultures revealed Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) infection. Cheese has tested positive for E. coli O26.

The crèche was closed for a few days, but has since reopened. Samples from surfaces were taken and analyzes of the meals were carried out as well as a thorough cleaning of the premises.

Product recall

This week, French authorities informed of a withdrawal and recall of raw milk cheeses such as morbier, raclette and tomme, that are manufactured by the company Route des Terroirs. They were distributed throughout France and were manufactured up to Oct. 11, 2023.

Santé Publique France, the national reference center for E. coli, the General Directorate of Food (DGAL), and the General Directorate of Health (DGS) launched an investigation into the illnesses to identify a common source.

Epidemiological, microbiological and traceability work has found a link between some of the cases and Morbier cheese produced by Route des Terroirs. However, officials said they also haven’t ruled out other sources of contamination.

Officials in the Jura region of France inspected the company and identified six batches of morbier contaminated with E. coli O26:H11. They also found several procedures listed by the company in its health control plan were not respected.

The approval that the company needs to market its products has been suspended by authorities. Production of Morbier, tommes, and raclette has stopped since Dec. 7, 2023.

An alert for STEC in morbier raw milk cheese on the EU’s Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) platform shows products were sent to more than 10 countries including Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

Santé publique France surveillance on HUS only covers children younger than 15 years old in the country.

Health authorities said raw milk and cheeses made from raw milk should not be consumed by young children, particularly those under 5 years old, pregnant women and immunocompromised people.

About E. coli infections

Anyone who has eaten any of the implicated products and developed symptoms of E. coli infection should seek medical attention and tell their doctor about their possible food poisoning. 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.

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