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Probe into E.coli in raw meat fears

Health officials are to examine whether there are any potential risks to humans in raw meat which contains a strain of bacteria resistant to antibiotics.

Scientists are to test different kinds of meat, including chicken, beef and pork, to test whether they carry the E.coli which contains an enzyme that destroys many penicillin-based antibiotics.

The investigation, led by Public Health England (PHE), will also see researchers examine farm slurry and sewage to "determine whether there are any potential risks to human health in a number of different reservoirs of these bacteria", a PHE spokeswoman said.

Researchers will compare ESBL (extended-spectrum beta-lactamases) positive E.coli found in sewage and raw meat to those found to have caused bloodstream infections in humans to see whether there are any genetic similarities.

Officials said that E.coli with ESBLs can be found in animals, raw meat, sewage and river water, but whether this poses any health risk to humans is "poorly understood".

E.coli are bacteria commonly found in the gut of humans and animals where they live harmlessly. But some strains can cause illness including food poisoning, urinary tract infections (UTIs) and bloodstream infections. The bacteria is responsible for 90% of UTIs.

Officials said antibiotic-resistant strains of E.coli are an increasing problem. Around one in every 10 human cases is resistant to traditional antibiotics used to treat the infection.

Professor Neil Woodford, head of the Antimicrobial Resistance and Healthcare Associated Infections Reference Unit at PHE, said: "The risks posed to human health by resistant E.coli from non-human reservoirs are not fully understood. This study will help to disentangle this complex interrelationship.

"The problem with ESBL-producing E.coli is that infections caused by them become very much harder to treat.

"This study is very important because its results will help to shape future intervention strategies to reduce the spread of these antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria and to reduce the numbers of infections that they cause."

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