Friday, October 28, 2011

E coli: Indians develop a sort of immunity from this gut pathogen

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad:  About 5000 years of association with agriculture
through natural manure has made Indians immune to outbreaks of
Escherichia coli, though India is a refectory to this gut pathogen,
points out the Indo-German team involved in unravelling the mystery of
this dangerous bacterium.

The dung of cows and buffaloes contain enterohaemorrhogic E coli
(EHEC), which is more harmful and virulent than the ordinary strains
of E coli that live in human beings. But thanks to handling of natural
manure in India in the form of gobar (cow dung) for almost five
millennia, Indians have developed immunity to this virulent strain. It
is the mutant of EHEC that is causing havoc in Germany and other
European countries.

The team allays the fears of a possible spread of the new German
strain of E coli in India through vegetables and fruits. "What is
baffling is that India has never witnessed outbreaks of E coli though
it could in fact be a refectory to the pathogen because of unhygienic
conditions," points out Dr Lothar Wieler, director of the Institute of
Microbiology and Epizootics, Freie University, Germany.

Dr Lothar is involved with city research teams including those from
the University of Hyderabad, CCMB and Mahavir Hospital on E coli
research. India has witnessed regular outbreaks of cholera, but never
institutionalised outbreaks of gastroenteritis caused by E coli unlike
in Europe and the Americas. There have been only sporadic or isolated
cases of E coli infections, though the compromised hygienic conditions
in India could have actually triggered E coli outbreaks.

The inherent immunity in Indians to E coli has now forced the German
teams to trace the history of the bacteria by taking to the fields
going after cows, trash and soil to know the natural descent of the
outbreak strain. The German researchers hope to find out the "kinship"
of the new strain in their continent. The new killer strain has
evolved from the two German strains (01-09591 originally isolated in
2001 and TY2482 from the 2011 outbreak) though accumulated
mutations/plasmids that conferred ability to resist many additional
types of antibiotics.

"As there have been no institutionalised outbreaks, Indians could
actually be immune to the EHEC like strains - so no worries," Lothar
pointed out.

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