Entero-haemorrhagic Escherichia coli O157:H7 is a zoonotic pathogen, responsible for a relatively small number of food poisoning and illness outbreaks each year, when compared with other food-borne bacteria capable of causing infections in the population. Nevertheless, E. coli O157:H7 is a bacterial pathogen associated with severe human illnesses including bloody diarrhoea and haemolytic uremic syndrome occurring in both outbreak and sporadic settings. In England and Wales approximately 1% of all laboratory-confirmed cases of food poisoning are the result of E. coli O157:H7; however, in Scotland this figure increases to 3%. When the size of the population is taken into account and the rate of E. coli O157:H7 confirmed cases per 100 000 population is examined, the rate of E. coli 0157:H7 infections in Scotland is much greater than England and Wales. The routes of transmission have changed over time, with new routes of transmission such as farm visits emerging. The prevalence of E. coli O157:H7 has a seasonal dependency, with greater faecal shedding of the organism in the warmer months; this is directly mirrored in the increased reporting of E. coli O157:H7 infection among hospitalized patients. This review attempts to suggest why this phenomenon occurs, paying particular attention to weather, animal movement and private water supplies.
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