A child has died in Scotland as a result of the outbreak of food poisoning bug E.coli linked to blue cheese, health chiefs have revealed.
The youngster is one of 20 people north of the Border to have become ill after ingesting the 0157 strain of the bacteria earlier in the summer. Eleven people required hospital treatment for the illness, which has been linked to the consumption of Dunsyre Blue – a Scottish artisan blue cheese.
Symptoms associated with E.coli O157 can include stomach cramps, diarrhoea, vomiting and occasionally fever.
Dr Alison Smith-Palmer, chair of the multi-agency Incident Management Team (IMT) chaired by Health Protection Scotland, said: “On behalf of the IMT, I would like to take this opportunity to extend our deepest sympathies to the family of the child who has died. Our thoughts are with them at this time and we ask that their privacy be respected.
“All confirmed cases became unwell prior to the end of July. As there have been no new cases since then the IMT will now stand down and work to produce its final report.”
It is not known how old the child was, or whether he or she had eaten the cheese.
The IMT’s last statement, on 12 August, reported that 19 people had become ill as a result of the outbreak, but a spokeswoman said yesterday that while another patient had come to light over the past month, their symptoms had begun at the same time as the other people affected by the bug.
The IMT’s statement said that epidemiological investigations identified Dunsyre Blue cheese as the most likely cause of the outbreak, although the manufacturer of the cheese, Errington Cheeses in Lanarkshire, has disputed the claim, saying there was a “malicious prejudice against raw-milk cheese”.
The team said that despite extensive investigation, including looking for other possible food sources, no other link to a majority of cases could be established.
It is understood that no-one else has fallen ill since the voluntary recall of the cheese on 29 July. The final outbreak report from the IMT may take up to six months.
The IMT said Food Standards Scotland and South Lanarkshire Council would continue to work with the food business operator, Errington Cheeses.
Last month Humphrey Errington, owner of award-winning Errington Cheeses, said that the link between his cheese and the outbreak had caused one major customer to cancel their order.
Mr Errington told The Scotsman: “Health Protection Scotland’s claim that the 19 ill people had consumed Dunsyre Blue is untrue according to the data which they themselves have released; of the 19 ill people, seven may have eaten blue cheese (not necessarily Dunsyre Blue); some never ate any blue cheese.”
He added: “We can now say with absolute confidence that, following comprehensive tests and the examination of them by an independent expert microbiologist, there is no evidence whatever for any link to the recent outbreak of illness; the government agency tests have all also proved negative.”
Most people who had eaten the cheese had done so in restaurants, but the company carried out a voluntary recall of batches – bought between mid May and the end of July – which were thought to be linked to the problem.
A separate outbreak of E.coli also emerged in July, killing two people and affecting 151 others, mainly in England and Wales. Only one case was identified in Scotland at the time. It was believed to be connected to mixed salad leaves.
In 1996, Lanarkshire was the source of another outbreak of E.coli, which killed 21 people. The fatal accident inquiry into the incident found that six of the deaths could have been prevented if butcher John Barr had responded “fully and honestly” with officials investigating the outbreak – because the supply of meats to wholesalers could have been prevented.
Other outbreaks have occurred in Grampian, in 1999, when more than 30 people, many of them children, became infected – while Dundee-based Highland Game was linked to an outbreak late last year, when ten people north of the border were infected with the bacteria after eating venison products including sausages, steaks and meatballs.
A report published yesterday by the University of Cambridge found that one in four samples of chicken bought from major supermarket chains contained antibiotic-resistant E.coli.
People can become unwell with E.coli O157 infection after eating food or drinking water that is contaminated with the faeces from infected animals, or from contact with animals or their environments.