12 September 2009
Godstone Farm in Surrey has closed to visitors today while the Health Protection Agency leads the investigation into an outbreak of E. Coli O157 among people who have visited there.
The Agency’s Surrey and Sussex Health Protection Unit (HPU) is working with local environmental health officers, the Veterinary Laboratory Agency and Godstone Farm in response to 36 cases of gastrointestinal illness which have occurred following visits to the animal farm in Surrey.
Of the 36 cases, 12 children are currently in hospital with complications arising from the infection which causes diarrhoea and can lead to kidney failure, especially in young children.
Measures to reduce the risk of the infection spreading were put in place by the farm last week but as more cases have been reported, the farm has agreed to close to enable detailed investigations into the source of the infection. During the peak of the school holidays, the farm which allows people to see and pet a variety of farm animals, receives up to 2,000 visitors a day.
Dr Angela Iversen, Director of the Health Protection Unit, said: “This is a large outbreak of this infection. The farm owners are co-operating fully and we are working closely with them and with colleagues across health and local authorities to investigate the source. Our advice is that the farm should remain closed to visitors while this work goes on.”
It is believed the outbreak began around August 8th. Anyone who visited the farm since that date, or any member of their household, even if they did not personally visit the farm, who becomes unwell with the following symptoms should seek medical advice or contact NHS Direct on 0845 4647:
- diarrhoea (which can be bloodstained)
- abdominal pain and cramps
- feeling weak or lethargic
- passing less urine than usual
Dr. Iversen added: “We are urging parents to follow strict hand washing with their families when visiting these farms. Although many parents may carry alcohol gels with them, this should be an adjunct to hand washing with soap and water and not a substitute.
“E. Coli O157 is an infection that people can pick up when handling or stroking animals, unless hands are thoroughly washed afterwards to minimise the risk. It can also be spread easily from person to person so good hygiene is vital, especially in young children whose hand washing after using the toilet and before eating should be supervised. ”
Notes to editors:
• E. Coli O157 bacteria usually cause diarrhoea which settles within seven days without treatment. The diarrhoea may contain blood. Occasionally, serious kidney and blood complications can occur. Good hygiene is very important in preventing person-to person spread and small children should be supervised with hand washing after using the toilet and before eating.
• Escherichia coli (commonly referred to as E. coli) is a species of bacteria commonly found in the intestines of humans and animals. There are many different types of E. coli, and while some live in the intestine quite harmlessly, others may cause a variety of diseases. The bacterium is found in faeces and can survive in the environment.
• To avoid getting strains capable of causing intestinal disease people should avoid eating undercooked meat, in particular inadequately cooked minced beef and avoid drinking unpasteurised milk. Individuals working with uncooked meats or on farms should pay close attention to good hygiene practices, as should visitors to farms.
• It is important to always wash your hands with soap after going to the toilet and before and after handling food.
• Hand washing in young children should be supervised, especially after handling animals or their surroundings, for instance on a visit to a farm.
More information: http://www.hpa.org.uk/ecoliVTEC
Last reviewed: 23 September 2009