Interview with Dr. Ulrike Sucher on the EHEC outbreak

Interview with Dr. Ulrike Sucher on the EHEC outbreak

"No reason to panic, but extreme hygiene measures are required"

The EHEC outbreak in Germany highlights the inappropriate prescription of antibiotics as one of the main sources of a number of emerging infections with "superbugs," says Dr. Ulrike Sucher, Medical Director at international health insurer Allianz Worldwide Care. In most cases of colds and influenza, when people become ill "they could take a bath filled with antibiotics, but it will not help," as these illnesses are caused by a virus, not bacteria. Antibiotics are only effective against bacterial infections.

"The EHEC bacterium belongs to the family of E.Coli, which naturally inhabits the intestinal tract of humans and is absolutely harmless. In fact it actually produces vitamin K and helps to keep dangerous bacteria at bay" Dr. Sucher says. "Some strains could possibly cause slight diarrhoea, but not to the extent we see right now. Today we are dealing with an aggressive new strain that can cause bloody diarrhoea and kidney failure, consequently affecting the brain." 

She describes bacteria as "very intelligent little organisms which can exchange genetic material with other strains and pass on new qualities, for example a resistance to certain antibiotics. In this particular case, it probably means resistance to practically all available antibiotics." 

While there is no reason for panic, she does advise expats living in Germany to refrain from eating raw salad, for as long as this outbreak continues. "If people do want to eat it, and this advice is applicable to people in the Netherlands, they need to peel the vegetables, clean all utensils used thoroughly and observe strict hygienic measures. The EHEC bacterium is sensitive to heat, and strange as it may sound, to soap. So, to kill the bacteria, vegetables should either be cooked or washed with soap in very hot water above 70 degrees Celsius."

Dr. Sucher, emphasised that if expats are suffering from diarrhoea and cramp, they should go and see their doctor. "But if they suffer from bloody diarrhoea, they should head for the hospital immediately." 

She strongly agrees with media opinion that the vast overuse of antibiotics is to blame for what has happened. "This outbreak highlights the inappropriate prescription of antibiotics as the main source of a number of problems, not only the emergence of the EHEC bacterium but also the multi-resistant bacteria in hospitals. The more antibiotics prescribed, the bigger the chance that one specific strain will gain the ability to survive it. And then this strain will pass this genetic information to bacteria that would normally be responsive to the antibiotic. Take bronchitis for example, only 5 percent is caused by bacteria, but many people feel that when a cough lasts more than three days, they must need antibiotics. But antibiotics will not help, for in 95 percent of cases, the illness is not due to bacteria but to a virus. Some people believe that doctors simply do not want to prescribe antibiotics, but that perception is just incorrect - the reality is that they know prescribing antibiotics for a viral infection simply won’t do any good. Doctors are courageous to stand by what they believe in and responsibly help to keep our world healthy."




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