Want to travel safely? Think about O. coli

Written by Staff Writer

If you’re planning a trip to an area of the world afflicted by Omicron variant E. coli, be warned: Transporting any food item containing sewage could be risky.

During the month of May and June, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported more than 600 cases of the deadly Omicron variant E. coli (ODEC) and 1 death in the United States.

What makes this strain so particularly toxic is that it can cross species, according to the CDC , and is particularly dangerous for humans because it lacks a “familial relation.” This means the antibiotic-resistant strain, while it has genes for causing illness in human hosts, does not pass through a human to another.

CNN Graphic Credit: Additional reporting by Lisa Respers France

ODEC is most often found in raw milk from wild animals such as cows, pigs, sheep, goats and chickens. Or, in restaurant ground beef and low-quality red meat from animals with low immunity — like chicken or pigs, where no antibiotics are given to the animals.

Where is it spreading?

Regional variations in vaccine programs and vaccination practices may allow a single strain to spread outside of its expected geographic boundaries. When that happens, travel restrictions, such as tourist restrictions or strict animal controls, may be instituted, the CDC notes.

In the past few months, there has been an outbreak linked to schools in Alabama, Idaho, Kansas, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, Virginia and Wyoming. Because of the lack of genetic ties between the E. coli strains, it is difficult to determine if these outbreaks are part of a growing problem or an isolated incident.

Despite this, the CDC suggests that people who are sickened with O. coli Omicron variant should seek medical attention, if possible. To do so, they should call your doctor and ask about antibiotics if you are facing a life-threatening illness.

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