The Health Protection Agency (HPA) is working with Birmingham City Council to investigate seven confirmed cases of E. coli O157 in visitors to the Sutton Park in Sutton Coldfield in recent weeks.
Parents are advised that E. coli O157 is an infection that can cause serious illness in young children. Of those visitors who became ill, five were children under eight.
Dr Roger Gajraj, a consultant with the HPA’s West Midlands East Health Protection Unit (HPU) said: “E. coli O157 can be very serious in young children and can in some instances cause kidney failure. The council is increasing hand washing facilities at the park and the City Council and HPA are issuing leaflets and displaying posters to warn visitors of the risks and advise on preventative measures. However to minimise the risk of infection parents may want to consider taking very young children to other parks in the local area.”
E. coli O157 is often associated with contact with animals and rural environments that may have been contaminated by animal faeces. The HPA has detected the same type of E. coli O157 both in the cases and in the faeces of cattle grazing the land.
Dr Gajraj added: “The best protection against E. coli is to always wash your hands, especially after contact with animals, after going to the toilet and immediately before eating. I would also advise cyclists and walkers to wash their tyres, footwear and their hands after visiting Sutton Park as an extra precaution.
“If hand-washing facilities are not immediately available, alcohol-based hand wipes can provide some limited protection but they don’t work or give adequate protection when hands are already soiled.”
Birmingham City Council’s Head of Parks, Darren Share, said: “We are working closely with the HPA to control this outbreak and we have already taken a number of measures. But as the infection can be particularly serious for young children we feel it is appropriate at this stage to warn parents and families of the potential risks. There are signs throughout the park informing visitors of the outbreak and the steps they can take to protect themselves.”
Note to editors
E. coli O157 is a germ that can cause infection of the bowel. It is usually spread by contact with animals, ingestion of contaminated food or water, or spread from person-to-person.
The incubation period is usually between one to six days, with an average of two days. Symptoms include diarrhoea which is usually settles within two weeks. Some people may have more serious illness with bloody diarrhoea, abdominal pain, raised temperature and shivering and should seek medical advice.
Across the country every year numerous sporadic cases and several outbreaks of E. coli O157 and cryptosporidiosis are associated with visits to animal parks, petting farms or picnicking in environments that have been contaminated by animal faeces.
Clothes, shoes and bicycle wheels can also become contaminated when leaning on fences that surround animal enclosures, from sitting on the ground or cycling through areas that have been contaminated with the bacteria .
The spread of infection can be prevented by thorough hand washing by everyone in the household, especially after using the toilet, before handling food, after handling raw food and immediately before eating.
Hand-washing after contact with animals, even domestic pets, is vital. Young children should be supervised when washing their hands, or have their hands washed for them.
Further information on E. coli O157 is available on the HPA website: http://www.hpa.org.uk/Topics/InfectiousDiseases/InfectionsAZ/EscherichiaColiO157/PatientCarer/
For more information visit www.hpa.org.uk or follow us on Twitter @HPAuk