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What is the new beef germ (O157:H7)?

Tainted hamburgers. Contaminated apple cider. Those headlines are real, and so is O157:H7, the new bacteria that causes them. O157:H7 is a type of e. coli bacteria, which normally lives in the large intestine of all mammals. In a symbiotic relationship with us, e. coli do the work of binding our solid wastes. We'd have diarrhea all the time (and die) if we didn't have e. coli.

O157:H7 is a mutated e. coli that does not normally live in our intestines. If it does manage to get there, it harms the intestinal wall, causing bleeding (which is one of the signs of O157:H7 infection). The symptoms can proceed to hepatic uremic syndrome, which destroys blood cells and can cause kidney failure and death, especially in elderly people and children.

O157:H7 is carried by cows, bulls, and steers, who appear not to be harmed by it. The bacteria reaches us through beef contaminated with steer feces, as a result of unsanitary practices at the slaughterhouses. It also reaches us from farms and apple orchards that use cow manure on crops and trees.

No one is sure how the bacteria has reached the bovine (bull, cow, and steer) population all over the U.S. and other parts of the world so quickly. One researcher (Jon Campbell) surmises that a possible source is some widely-used drug or hormone treatment that may have been contaminated during production with genetically mutated e. coli. (Genetically engineered bacteria used for drug and hormone production are usually e. coli).

Officials from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have cautioned consumers to literally cook beef with a meat thermometer to 160° F (71° C), and not to rely on color. They have also cautioned consumers to drink only pasteurized apple cider or to boil unpasteurized cider.

There is no cure or vaccine for O157:H7. According to CDC researchers, our bodies become naturally resistant to the bacteria in about 1 week (assuming we survive the ordeal). During that week, it can be life-threatening, especially to children and elderly people. Infected people must be monitored and cared for in a hospital intensive care unit if hepatic uremic syndrome develops. (There is no data on whether infected people become carriers of O157:H7).

We at CQS recommend removal of beef from the diet. (There are several other good reasons for excluding beef, such as dioxin contamination and fat content). Furthermore, we recommend drinking only pasteurized cider and extremely careful washing of fresh fruit and vegetables. Additionally, pressure must be brought to bear on the state and federal governments to ban use of raw cow manure and require composting methods that eliminate raw-manure contamination, and to identify, isolate, and treat infected cattle herds.

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