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Scientists fear over-use of antibiotics in medicine, farming led to deadly E. coli

June 8, 2011 - London

Scientists have expressed fear that the over-prescription of Antibiotics to humans and the massive and unregulated overuse of these drugs on livestock by farmers has led to the deadly E. coli outbreak.

So far, more than 20 people are dead and hundreds are seriously ill with a nasty kidney disease. From the probable source of the outbreak, in northern Germany, the virulent E. coli O104:H4 strain has spread to more than a dozen countries.

Now the public and doctors alike are wondering how such a common, and normally manageable, bacterium could have mutated into this deadly strain: a drug-resistant superbug.

What is causing most concern among scientists this time is a third factor present in E. coli O104:H4 - antibiotic resistance.

Scientists believe that over-prescription of Antibiotics in many countries is creating a microbiological timebomb that is primed to overwhelm our defences.

This particular outbreak appears to have been caused by an unholy combination of microbes, two older strains of E. coli, which have hybridised and mutated, plus an unrelated virus that has infected the bacteria, giving them the genes to produce the Shiga toxin.

This causes a complication called haemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS), which damages the kidneys and blood vessels, and can kill.

Even if Antibiotics worked perfectly against this germ, doctors would never prescribe them because, in destroying the microbes, the drug would hasten the release of the Shiga toxin as the bacterial cells burst.

"We are all very worried," the Daily Mail quoted leading microbiological expert Professor Chris Thomas as saying.

"The level of resistance is increasing all the time. E. coli is one of the bacteria we are worried about in hospitals as we are seeing strains resistant to all Antibiotics," he revealed.


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