E. coli 0121 Outbreak Naha, Japan

E. coliOn October 2nd, an E. coli outbreak was reported at a childcare facility in Naha, Japan. The strain implicated in the infection was Enterohemorrhagic E. coli 0121. The first case identified was from a nurse who worked at the childcare center. Ten people in total became ill with mild gastrointestinal symptoms. Seven of the cases were children. The source of the infection is still unknown.

Japan may be particularly sensitive when it comes to E. coli outbreaks, especially among school-aged children. Back in 1996, one of the worst E. coli outbreaks ever seen worldwide occurred in Sakai City Japan. Ultimately, an astonishing 9,451 people became ill from the bacteria, and 12 people died. Most of those affected by the outbreak were school children.

The causative strain was identified as E. coli O157:H7; however, the source of E. coli was not identified until three years later when scientists conducted studies aimed at tracing the source. In their report they concluded that radish sprouts from a single farm were responsible for the outbreak. The sprouts had been shipped to various schools to be included in the children’s lunches.radish sprout

This extreme example, and the more recent outbreak show the difficulties in attributing an E. coli outbreak to a particular source. Without knowing the origin of an outbreak, it is more difficult to get it under control, and can quickly get out of hand as seen in 1996 incident. This is an important idea to consider as last year alone Japan experienced 4153 cases of EHEC (according to the National Institute of Infectious Disease).

Despite current conditions, there may be good news for future improvements to Japan’s E. coli testing. According to a study reported in Food Safety News, the global market for E. coli testing is predicted to increase by nearly one billion dollars by 2022, with Asia being the region expected to see the most growth. Technologies are being developed to make E. coli testing quicker and more cost effective.

It will be interesting to see if faster, and more frequent testing can have any significant impact in preventing or minimizing future outbreaks. It is easy to wonder if Japan had had more funding or technology devoted to testing for E. coli back in 1996 if the outbreak would have reached the staggering number of cases that it did. Even now, this recent outbreak shows the continued difficulty in tracking the spread of E. coli infections. Luckily, this time the outbreak stopped at 10 cases.


What do you think?

Could faster and more effective methods of testing help prevent infections and stop major outbreaks?

Also, even though the market is showing an increasing demand for E. coli testing should resources go to developing these technologies, or should money go to other areas along the food safety/disease prevention chain?