The Loom

i-fe5c7bfd51abfe457b966f67ced9c816-escherichia.jpgOver the weekend I wrote about the natural history of the Escherichia coli strain that has contaminated spinach. According to reports today, 109 people have been identified as sickened with Escherichia coli O157:H7, and one has died. In the comment thread of my post, the subject of antibiotics came up. It turns out that antibiotics are the last thing you want to take if you get sick with Escherichia coli O157:H7. It may turn a nasty–but temporary–case of bloody diarrhea into fatal organ failure.

More below the fold…

Like other microbes, Escherichia coli O157:H7 carries a number genes that were delivered to it by viruses. In some cases, the viral DNA has mutated to the point that it cannot produce new viruses, and so the genes can only be passed down from one generation to the next. In other cases, the viruses are dormant but still independent. In response to stress, Escherichia coli starts making new copies of the virus, which then burst out of their host. Antibiotics are among the stresses that trigger the viruses to escape. It’s a good strategy for the virus, because it can escape from its host before the antibiotics kill the bug. It’s not so good for the host, of course, and can be pretty bad for us as well. That’s because the toxins in Escherichia coli that can cause organ failure are actually carried by the viruses. The genes only become active as the host begins making new viruses. That means that if you take antibiotics for infection with Escherichia coli O157:H7, you may wipe out the infection, but you may also trigger organ failure.

As a result, the advice from experts on this bug is to just rig patients up with hydration and hope for the best. While a few people may suffer organ failure even without antibiotics, in most cases the bloody diarrhea passes, and people recover. Let sleeping viruses lie.

Comments

  1. #1 drew hempel
    September 18, 2006

    I bet garlic kills viral infections as well. Garlic pills and cayenne! Plus spirulina and chlorella. None of those things are patented so what doctor will prescribe them? No kick backs!!

  2. #2 drew hempel
    September 18, 2006

    There’s been a lot of useless reductionist analysis about this issue. Here’s the real cause — corporate monocultural farming: http://counterpunch.com/frank09182006.html

  3. #3 Timothy Chase
    September 19, 2006

    Drew,

    I had been wondering about that myself.

    Tara Smith over at:

    http://scienceblogs.com/aetiology

    had alluded to the scale of the farming, and the larger the scale the more vulnerable it will be to a great many diseases – particularly when they stick to only a few standardized crops. The Great Potato Famine of Ireland was one of the more well-known instances of this.

    However, while looking at the article, I noticed that the author didn’t seem to make any connection between spinach and e coli. The bacteria is closely associated with the guts of cows but not generally with spinach.

    In this respect, the author would seem to be missing an important detail or two. Or would this be too reductionist?

  4. #4 Christine Carole
    September 19, 2006

    I think reductionism is not such a bad idea. The reports are not very clustered, and the FDA has only said spinach is the common link. As a “veggie” chef, rarely do I see someone eat plain raw spinach. Most common salad extra for spinach involves fresh lemon, orange or the addition of walnuts or cashews. I also rarely see people wash their citrus or wash their hands while cracking nuts. I live in an agricultural area with an abundance of fresh produce; usually it is the stuff that is put on the produce (bad batch of walnut oil, special recipe vinegar or feta, etc.) that gives people “buggies”. Just curious, has any one seen a more detailed analysis of the foods consumed?

  5. #5 drew hempel
    September 19, 2006

    Ever read Professor Alfred Crosby? Would it be so inaccurate to argue that white, male-led “civilization” is really just monolithic, monocultural, parasitical and genocidal just by its modus operandi: Plow-based iron-forged farming?

    In contrast consider horticulture with biodiversity that balances microbes! Aka indigenous technical knowledge — just read Professor Karl Zimmerer’s new book (no relation to Carl Zimmer, haha). Zimmerer got a Guggenheim Award a few years ago and is a leader in biodiversity and sustainable agriculture.

    Plow-based monocultural RECTILINEAR farming is only 10,000 years old: “Birth of the Gods and the Origin of Agriculture” by Jacques Cauvin (Cambridge U Press, 2000).

    For example the Presbyterian ministers converted the Dakota to farming in Minnesota circa 1820 — demanding that the men cut their hair (which means your gay in Dakota culture) and demanding that they take up the plow.

    Well guess what? The Dakota ALREADY knew how to farm. The women did it through horticulture — using sophisticated polycultural integrated pest management and the lunar calendar.

    I guess that didn’t fit our founding fathers image of the Lost Tribes of Israel that the Dakota supposedly were.

    It wasn’t so successful so the starving Dakota went on rampage in defense of the genocidal treatment by their new “fathers.” Subsequently some 1,200 women and children were put in a concentration camp by Fort Snelling and hundreds died over the winter, then the rest were stuffed in trains and boats, and those that died were tossed out (sound familiar?). The survivors were dropped off in desolate land in the Dakotas.

    Now — a little e. coli break out seems appropriate doesn’t it?

  6. #6 Drew Hempel
    September 19, 2006

    Meanwhile the largest food distributor in the world is replacing the Earth’s Brain with Soybeans!!

    Take Action against Cargill’s Destruction of the Amazon, source of 25% of Earth’s freshwater and oxygen.

    http://www.climateimc.org/?q=node/549

  7. #7 Drew Hempel
    September 21, 2006

    So I scared everyone away? haha — here’s the latest on the E. Coli — it’s from grain-fed cows, not pasture-fed cows. http://www.treehugger.com/files/2006/09/all_on_the_tabl.php

  8. #8 jb
    September 21, 2006

    I would suspect that bad handling or exposure to a contaminated environment would be more of the cause of these infections than any of the named issues so far.

    In fact, all of them seem to be a bit of a reach.

    Anyhow, wouldn’t treatment with bacteriophages work a bit better than antibiotics anyway?

  9. #9 LL
    September 23, 2006

    I just read somewhere: The E coli may be from the deer, recently come to browse in the Spinach fields, because their usual sources of food are dried out at the moment (waiting for the seasonal rains). (possible flaw in this idea: Why wouldn’t they be contaminating the lettuce beds etc as well?)

    Since this is a sudden onset of multiple cases….we need an explanation for the suddenness of it all and this is almost as likely a hypothesis as is the idea of contaminated machinery.

    LL

  10. #10 drew hempel
    September 23, 2006

    Well now they’re saying it was probably flooded with manure-water that had the strain so resistant.

    I still think that real issue is the fact that this article emphasizes the spinach was still in a bag — long after it was harvested. http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1537853,00.html

    Our immune system is constantly barraged with viruses, bacteria etc. that can be harmful — the question is to what level of concentration!!

  11. #11 drew hempel
    September 23, 2006

    More proof that the problem is monocultural farming — corn as cow-feed — instead of pasture-fed cows: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2001/05/010511074623.htm

  12. #12 Carl Zimmer
    September 23, 2006

    Drew–The study you mention was actually carried out in 1998. Since then, scientists have tried to replicate the results, and the result is far from clear. For example, in 2005, scientists reported that “Cattle fed forage [grass] diets had ruminal persistence and fecal E. coli O157:H7 at quantifiable concentrations for twice as long as cattle fed grain [corn] diets.”

    Tara Smith has more at Aetiology.

  13. #13 drew hempel
    September 24, 2006

    Well considering that genetic engineering freely crosses into organic cultivars — “contaminating” organic farming — it’s not surprising that the same has happened with grain-fed versus pasture-fed bacteria.

    Again this is an issue of biodiversity — Nature’s means of immunity is diversity. Professor Karl Zimmerer is an expert in this issue and has edited a new book on globalization and conservation (I haven’t read it yet).

    Harvard-trained ethnobotanist Dr. Mark Plotkin has focused on overcoming this true crisis of antibiotic resistance.

    http://www.actionbioscience.org/biodiversity/plotkin.html

    There is currently a rush to harvest new drugs from biodiversity. Personally I don’t think this will save us.

    The real big wigs in science — the Biodefense Shield guys — are looking for nanotechnology to save us. Having my molecular structure transformed by an implant connected to a terrorist-triggered satellite system is not my idea of being healthy. (see the new book “Nanotechnology and Homeland Security” or just check out the new silica-DNA biochips)

    Yet, under the true “democracy” of science (think Oppenheimer and the A-bomb) — do we really have a choice?

  14. #14 drew hempel
    September 24, 2006

    Mark Plotkin:

    It’s interesting that you mention the word “organism” to treat this. We tend to think of antibiotics as things that come from microbes. There is an even more exciting, or at least as exciting, development and that is the use of tiny tiny tiny viruses called bacteriophages. Bacteriophages eat bacteria. They were developed in France and in Soviet Georgia in the 30′s and, guess what, the Russians and Georgians have never stopped using this stuff. There is, in fact, evidence that Russian troops in Chechnya are still using bacteriophages. Certainly the Soviet soldiers carried them into World War II so it is clear that these things can be effective. There are several startup companies now in the U.S. and in parts of Europe investigating bacteriophages as a source of new treatments for drug-resistant bacteria. They are claiming phenomenal rates of success. So it’s that mixture of nature and science, which promises so much for the future.

  15. #15 Carl
    September 27, 2006

    Several people have told me that the spinach plant was a “host” for the E coli, that it is taken up into the plant from the roots and is actually inside the plant. This seems a bit far fetched to me. Does anyone know where this story came from?

  16. #16 Owlmirror
    September 27, 2006

    Several people have told me that the spinach plant was a “host” for the E coli, that it is taken up into the plant from the roots and is actually inside the plant. This seems a bit far fetched to me. Does anyone know where this story came from?

    This comment answers that question:

    http://scienceblogs.com/aetiology/2006/09/emerging_disease_and_zoonoses_12.php#comment-220271

    I’m not a botanist, but that explanation seems pretty straightforward:
    The plant is taking taking in water normally. If there’s bacteria in the water being taken in, it just goes along for the ride.

  17. #17 drew hempel
    September 30, 2006

    Here’s a blog that gives plenty of detailed analysis discussing the different methodology showing dramatically different results for e. coli strains.

    These differences are also related to how funds the study (i.e. the Cattleman’s Association, etc.)

    http://blog.foodsafetynetwork.ca/viewtopic.php?p=105&

    Just showing, once again, that “science” is not objective and indeed factory farms are at the heart of the problem — too much factory dairy manure in California.

    Good thing Wisconsin never took up California’s request for a pipe to ship water across the U.S. — it’s bad enough that Reagan funded the Dairy factory boom in California, thereby changing the validity of Wisconsin’s motto — “the dairy state.”

  18. #18 drew hempel
    October 3, 2006

    I think we can surmise that indeed garlic may have saved some lives during the recent e. coli outbreak:

    http://rense.com/general73/GARLIC.HTM

  19. #19 drew hempel
    October 4, 2006

    Feed garlic to the cows?

    http://www.enn.com/today.html?id=11373

  20. #20 Peter Garin
    October 12, 2006

    I grew up in the Salinas Valley. You don’t hear about the field crews that do have “porta-pottys” with wash sinks.

    Believe me there is a lot of standing water in some fields and some processing plants. Is bleach used to disinfect everything that comes in contact with the spinach? No…

    There are billions of tons of fresh produce that are shipped over the last how many years, and yet there is talk now of all sorts of preventive laws and regulations that will come into play.

    I hate scare tactics. What’s more is, I’ve been out in the fields and seen growth and handling practices. I suspect that this incident will forever change now only how we look at produce but how we handle it as well. For the most part most of the fields are not fertilized with raw manure from feedlots. These weren’t… I don’t know the actual block and section involved but I suspect it was more than likely the packing shed, and the washing and prep of the vegatables.

    Dole was the parent company and I believe the company was “Natural Selection Foods”, which is a ironic twist of names. Dole is one of the nations largest processors of produce and so far, they have said very little.

    The Foxy brand of lettuce is a different company and a different element altogether but ironicaly, I suspect the two will be combined by the less than well informed.

    Tom Nunnes upon hearing that the water from an alternate irrigation source, tested positive took a family run farm and put it all on the line because of a sense of social responsibility. I would only hope produce giants,like Dole, will act just as responsibily.

    Do note however Tom made the recall even though the lettuce didn’t test positive…. it was the alternate irrigation source that tested positive. That was only on the day sampled… and not on the day of irrigation. Do know sunlight will kill the pathogen.

    So, for the most part, it will be difficult to even put a general finger on where the original blame for the spinach contamination will be placed.

    I do wonder, just as with the airport safety regulations, how much of all this will be all for “show”.

  21. #21 Peter Garin
    October 12, 2006

    I grew up in the Salinas Valley. You don’t hear about the field crews that do have “porta-pottys” with wash sinks.

    Believe me there is a lot of standing water in some fields and some processing plants. Is bleach used to disinfect everything that comes in contact with the spinach? No…

    There are billions of tons of fresh produce that are shipped over the last how many years, and yet there is talk now of all sorts of preventive laws and regulations that will come into play.

    I hate scare tactics. What’s more is, I’ve been out in the fields and seen growth and handling practices. I suspect that this incident will forever change now only how we look at produce but how we handle it as well. For the most part most of the fields are not fertilized with raw manure from feedlots. These weren’t… I don’t know the actual block and section involved but I suspect it was more than likely the packing shed, and the washing and prep of the vegatables.

    Dole was the parent company and I believe the company was “Natural Selection Foods”, which is a ironic twist of names. Dole is one of the nations largest processors of produce and so far, they have said very little.

    The Foxy brand of lettuce is a different company and a different element altogether but ironicaly, I suspect the two will be combined by the less than well informed.

    Tom Nunnes upon hearing that the water from an alternate irrigation source, tested positive took a family run farm and put it all on the line because of a sense of social responsibility. I would only hope produce giants,like Dole, will act just as responsibily.

    Do note however Tom made the recall even though the lettuce didn’t test positive…. it was the alternate irrigation source that tested positive. That was only on the day sampled… and not on the day of irrigation. Do know sunlight will kill the pathogen.

    So, for the most part, it will be difficult to even put a general finger on where the original blame for the spinach contamination will be placed.

    I do wonder, just as with the airport safety regulations, how much of all this will be all for “show”.

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