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Animal Disease and Human Health Risk

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Beyond Mad Cow Disease

It was in 1996 that mad cow disease captured world headlines. However, in that same year, other diseases linked with animals were claiming thousands of human lives even though they did not garner front page coverage.

Few Americans are aware of the host of potentially fatal diseases that are caused by germs that lie no further away than the local grocery store, or even their own refrigerator. Some of these bacteria and viruses cause illnesses that are well understood by public health professionals as posing a threat to human health. The links between other germs and human risks are more speculative.

However, almost all of these diseases are largely linked to animal products. Infectious illnesses have again become a high priority in the public health arena. Of particular concern are growing threats to our food safety. A recent editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine put it this way, "The microbiologic hazards of food present an issue of increasing concern."69 In view of this, we need to determine if dietary choices could minimize our personal risk from these distressing and sometimes lethal infectious diseases.

Despite the high level of sanitation in the United States, our food is responsible for virtually thousands of infectious disease cases each year. Roughly 60,000 cases of food-related illness are reported annually to the Centers for Disease Control.70 These 60,000 reported cases considerably underestimate the true number of cases. Current estimates are a staggering 80 million cases each year of intestinal illness due to contaminated foods in the U.S. alone.71 Lowly E. Coli

E. Coli is one of the most common bacteria known to man. All of us have literally millions of these germs living in our intestines. Unfortunately, some types of E. Coli can be dangerous and even life threatening. Two such dangerous varieties are technically referred to serotypes O157:H7 and O104:H21. Both of these can cause severe intestinal symptoms including bloody diarrhea. Worse yet, they can cause a life threatening disease in children known as the hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). HUS is the most common cause of acute kidney failure in children.72 Its name is derived from the fact that this disease causes destruction of red blood cells (hemolysis) and, commonly, kidney failure.

The latter problem causes a buildup of wastes in the blood (known as uremia). It can be severe enough to lead to death. Survivors may develop chronic kidney problems with a need for dialysis and/or transplant.73 In late 1992 and early 1993, dangerous E. Coli serotypes caused over 600 infections and claimed 4 lives in the well-publicized events associated with fast food hamburgers in western America.74, 75 Over 2000 infections are reported to the Centers for Disease Control with many more estimated cases occurring that are not reported, with approximately 20 dying each year.76 Some estimate that as many as 20,000 people each year get sick from E. Coli with up to one-third requiring hospitalization.

Beef, however, is not the only food that can harbor this serious infectious agent. Human disease from E. Coli varieties has been traced to raw milk as well as to commercially pasteurized milk. In the latter situation, disease-causing E. Coli, which is found in large amounts in some cattle wastes, can apparently contaminate milk after pasteurization.77 Other sources of infection have included sausage,78 roast beef, and apple cider, since some apples that go into apple cider are taken from the ground where cattle roam and are contaminated with cattle manure.79 Meat harvested from wild game such as deer can also harbor the infectious agent.80 One percent of all cattle harbors the diseased E. Coli.81 Because of processing practices, meat from many animals may comprise one hamburger, thus making ground beef and hamburgers responsible for more human outbreaks of the disease than any other single source.82 A summary of E. Coli diseases is shown in Figure 15: Dangerous E. Coli Bacteria Diseases.

In 1995, every state in America reported outbreaks of disease causing E. Coli. Figure 16: Disease-Causing E. Coli in the U.S.A. portrays the number of cases reported to the CDC for each state.83

These numbers greatly underestimate the actual numbers of disease in each state since only about 50 percent of laboratories even test bloody diarrhea for diseased E. Coli.84 The CDC has now formally recommended that all laboratories test bloody diarrhea at least for E. Coli 0157:H7.85

69 Blaser MJ. How safe is our food? Lessons from an outbreak of salmonellosis N Engl J Med 1996 May 16;334(20):1324-1325.

70 Ten leading nationally notifiable infectious diseases--United States, 1995. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 1996 Oct 18;45(41):883-884.

71 Craig WJ. Are You Safe at the Plate. In: Nutrition for the Nineties. Eau Claire, MI: Golden Harvest Books, 1992 p. 267-279.

72 Update: multistate outbreak of Escherichia Coli O157:H7 infections from hamburgers--western United States. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 1993 Apr 16;42(14):258-263.

73 Badr, KF, Brenner BM. Vascular Injury to the Kidney: Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS) And Thrombotic Thrombocytopenic Purpura (TTP). In: Isselbacher KJ, Braunwald E, editors, et al. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine--13th edition (CD-ROM). New York, NY: McGRAW-HILL, Inc. Health Professions Division, 1994.

74 MacDonald KL, Osterholm MT. The emergence of Escherichia Coli O157:H7 infection in the United States. The changing epidemiology of foodborne disease. JAMA 1993 May 5;269(17):2264-2266.

75 USDA:APHIS:VS. Escherichia Coli O157:H7: Issues and Ramifications. March 1994. Centers for Epidemiology and Animal Health. Fort Collins, Colorado. P. S-1.

76 Notice to Readers: Final reports of notifiable diseases. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 1996 Aug 30;45(34):724-754.

77 Outbreak of acute gastroenteritis attributable to Escherichia Coli serotype O104:H21--Helena, Montana, 1994. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 1995 Jul 14;44(27):501-503.

78 Community outbreak of hemolytic uremic syndrome attributable to Escherichia Coli O111:NM--South Australia 1995. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 1995 Jul 28;44(29):550-1, 557-558.

79 Outbreaks of Escherichia Coli O157:H7 infection and cryptosporidiosis associated with drinking unpasteurized apple cider--Connecticut and New York, October 1996. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 1997 Jan 10;46(1):4-8.

80 Keene WE, Sazie E, et al. An outbreak of Escherichia Coli O157:H7 infections traced to jerky made from deer meat. JAMA 1997 Apr 16;277(15):1229-1231.

81 Outbreak of Escherichia Coli O157:H7 infection--Georgia and Tennessee, June 1995. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 1996 Mar 29;45(12):249-251.

82 Outbreak of Escherichia Coli O157:H7 infection--Georgia and Tennessee, June 1995. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 1996 Mar 29;45(12):249-251.

83 Notice to Readers: Final reports of notifiable diseases. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 1996 Aug 30;45(34):724-754.

84 Outbreak of Escherichia Coli O157:H7 infection--Georgia and Tennessee, June 1995. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 1996 Mar 29;45(12):249-251.

85 Outbreak of Escherichia Coli O157:H7 infection--Georgia and Tennessee, June 1995. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 1996 Mar 29;45(12):249-251.

Notice of Credit
The article above is compliments of the Uchee Pines Institute, Seale, Alabama, a teaching and treatment facility devoted to natural remedies. For mor information, call 334-855-4781,e-mail:, or visit their Website:

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