According to Sfgate – Federal officials said Tuesday that a national monitoring system for food-borne illness detected an increasing number of sicknesses last year from a group of rare E. coli bacteria related to the little-known, highly toxic strain that has been ravaging Germany.
For the first time, the group of rare E. coli strains collectively was identified as the cause of more illnesses in the United States than the more common form of the pathogen, probably because more laboratories have begun to test for their presence, said officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
On Tuesday, the agency released 2010 results from its nationwide tracking system for food-borne diseases.
The rarer strains of E. coli found in the United States have generally caused less severe illness, leading to fewer hospitalizations and deaths than the predominant strain, which is known as E. coli O157:H7. That strain has long been the focus of campaigns to eradicate it from the food supply.
The new tally is likely to add to the fierce debate over whether the government should force meatpackers to test for the rarer forms of E. coli and make it illegal to sell ground beef that contains them.
The Agriculture Department, which regulates the meat industry, has drafted new rules that would cover additional forms of E. coli, often called non-O157s, but the rules have become stalled in a review by the Obama administration. The E. coli outbreak centered in Germany also involves a non-O157 form of the bacteria, but one that is highly virulent. The data released Tuesday was from a monitoring system called FoodNet, which compiles data from clinical laboratories and hospitals in 10 states. The area represents 15 percent of the nation’s population and is believed to give a representative sample of food-borne illness around the country.
Last year, the network found 442 people in the sample area that had fallen ill from E. coli O157:H7, the most common strain of the bacteria. Of those cases, 184 were hospitalized and two died.
The monitoring network detected 451 people who had become infected with non-O157 E. coli, including 69 hospitalizations and one death. In 2009, FoodNet detected just 264 cases of the less common E. coli, but officials said the rise in cases last year was probably due to increased testing for the pathogens, rather than a surge in actual infections.