It's been confirmed that the 2-year-old Virginia girl who died over the weekend had been infected with E. coli. So, naturally Americans -- ever the alarmists -- are jumping to the conclusion that the United States is heading for a deadly outbreak of the virus, similar to the one in Germany in which 23 people have died and 2,330 are ill.
But it's not time to panic just yet ...
That's because the specific strain of E. coli found in the child who died this weekend is 0157:H7, which can cause illness ranging from mild intestinal disease to severe kidney complications. (It's believed the child was exposed to this strain from a contaminated pool.) The specific strain of E. coli in Germany is different: O104:H4.
There's no need for alarm -- now. But is the U.S. vulnerable to strains as deadly as 0104:HF? Well, that all depends on who you believe.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Tuesday that he is "reasonably confident" that America will not face a crisis similar to that in Germany. And the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that infections from E. coli O157 have dropped almost in half over the past 15 years.
But other food and health experts aren't so sure we're immune to a serious outbreak: They've recently noticed a very sizable increase in the number of non-O157:H7 strains -- which includes 0104:HF -- which have shown to be more virulent than what we're used to experiencing. Therefore, the chance that we might have an outbreak similar to that in Germany is not out of the question.
There's nothing to do now, though, except educate ourselves as much as we can and follow the advice of our food authorities: namely, thoroughly cook our meat, wash raw fruits and vegetables, and avoid swimming in places like rivers and lakes that could have access to agricultural run-off.
And most important: DON'T PANIC.
Image via La Grande Farmers' Market/Flickr