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Raw meat and raw milk cheeses should be avoided for young children.
HEALTH – Two little girls came close to death. An 18-month-old baby and a 7-year-old child were hospitalized in serious condition in the Lyon region. The cause ? They ingested morbier, a raw milk cheese that had been contaminated with the bacteria Escherichia coli (E. coli). They suffer from hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), an infectious disease that can appear after being infected with the bacteria.
“We thought we lost her”confided the father of the 7-year-old girl, Élise, to Parisian on February 10. Although she is now out of danger, she has not recovered all her kidney functions and could undergo a kidney transplant. As for Clara, aged one and a half years old, she can neither walk nor eat, after having spent three weeks on dialysis and 25 days in an artificial coma, according to BFMTV. Both families filed a complaint against X.
They are not the only children to have been infected with E. coli bacteria in recent weeks. At the end of 2023, eleven people have been identified by health authorities as being affected by pediatric hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). E. coli was also at the origin of the scandal which affected certain Buitoni frozen pizzas in 2022: several serious cases of contamination had been detected in people who had consumed these pizzas. Two children were dead.
What are the symptoms of contamination? How to avoid risks? We take stock.
What is E. coli bacteria?
According to the Pasteur Institute, E. coli bacteria resides in the intestines of warm-blooded animals, such as cattle. It can also be found in their stools, which can contaminate soil, water or manure.
Transmission occurs mainly through the ingestion of contaminated products. Most often, it occurs after the person has eaten raw milk dairy products – such as morbier –, or raw meat, and more rarely raw vegetables. It can also occur by putting dirty hands in the mouth after touching contaminated animals. But also by contact with a sick person “who has diarrhea and excretes the bacteria in their stools”according to Public health France (SPF).
In reality, not all strains of the bacteria are harmful to humans. The most dangerous is the one called “enterohemorrhagic “.
What are the symptoms and risks of HUS?
In simple cases of infection, the bacteria causes stomach aches, sometimes bloody diarrhea, three to four days after contamination, and sometimes even vomiting and fever.
In 10% of cases, infection with this bacteria is the cause of hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a much more serious infectious disease that affects the kidneys, according to the Pasteur Institute. Although it affects all categories of the population, young children are among those at risk, like the elderly.
Health risks are more serious when hemolytic uremic syndrome develops. Public Health France detailed : “People suffering from HUS (…) then present signs of great fatigue, paleness, a reduction in the volume of urine, which becomes darker, and sometimes convulsions. »
This disease mainly affects the kidney function of infected people. According to SPF, it thus represents “the main cause of acute renal failure in children under three years of age in France”. It frequently leaves the affected person with serious after-effects, such as chronic kidney failure years after the HUS episode.
Other organs may be affected, such as the brain and heart. A quarter of people suffering from HUS also develop neurological complications, which can lead to a state of coma, according to the Pasteur Institute.
HUS requires hospital care and is mainly based on the treatment of symptoms. Severe forms may require treatment by dialysis and/or blood transfusion in an intensive care unit. And most antibiotics are not recommended for treating infections.
This disease is very rare: on average, only 150 cases per year of pediatric HUS have been reported to SPF over the last ten years. The mortality rate is 1% in France (3 to 5% worldwide).
Avoid certain foods
There are solutions to reduce the risk of contamination. Santé Publique France recommends hygiene measures (washing hands and kitchen utensils), but also to prohibit the consumption of certain foods by young children. Meats, especially ground beef, must be well cooked through, and not pink or rare, to reach 70°C, the temperature which kills the bacteria.
Raw milk dairy products (Reblochon, Roquefort, Morbier, etc.) should be avoided in children under 5 years old, in whom cooked cheeses such as Comté, Emmental or Beaufort, or pasteurized milk cheeses should be preferred. SPF also recommends cooking flour-based preparations thoroughly and washing vegetables, fruits and aromatic herbs thoroughly before consuming them raw.
Finally, the government agency advises children to avoid consumption of untreated water (river, well, etc.), as well as contact with certain animals (cows, sheep, etc.) and their environment. If this happens, the child should wash their hands before putting them in their mouth.
Last December, many cheeses were recalled by health authorities, including morbier and raclette cheese. At the beginning of February, Santé Publique France once again called on parents to be vigilant, according to BFMTV : “We remind you that raw milk, Cheeses made from raw milk and dairy products made from raw milk should not be consumed by children under 5 years of age. »
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