Superbug calm plea

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HEALTH chiefs have moved to quell fears of a potentially deadly drug-resistant form of salmonella spreading in Wigan.

The S. Kentucky “superbug” variant of salmonella bacteria has infected hundreds of people in Britain, but Environmental Health officers in Wigan say there have yet to be any reported cases in the borough.

The bacteria appears to have developed due to the use of antibiotics in chicken and turkey farming, rendering it untreatable by those same drugs once it has infected humans.

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) has now urged people to take the same precautions which prevent the spread of salmonella to avoid any outbreak of the S. Kentucky strain.

Hugh Lamont, from the North West Health Protection Agency, said people should not panic but take basic precautions.

He said: “There are an estimated 13,000 cases of salmonella in England and Wales each year. There were 698 cases of S. Kentucky salmonella reported in France, England and Wales between 2000 and 2008, so we are talking about a small proportion.

“But residents should always be concerned about food safety and follow the basic rules. Thorough hand washing - especially before preparing food - is important to prevent the spread of salmonella. Residents should also keep cooked and uncooked meat stored separately and at the right temperatures.”

Symptoms of salmonellosis, the common food poisoning illness that arises from an infection by the bacteria, usually involve nothing more serious than diarrhoea or vomiting.

But it can present far more serious problems for the elderly or those with weakened immune systems.

The number of fatal cases would be higher but for the use of the antibiotics, whose effectiveness is now at risk from S. Kentucky.

The potentially lethal strain affected 244 people in England and Wales between 2000 and 2008, according to research.

Scientists believe S. Kentucky salmonella has spread to these shores from poultry imported from Africa and the Middle East.

But concern has been growing at the burgeoning use of antibiotics in British farming. In May, the presence of one “homegrown” superbug – a new type of MRSA – was identified in milk.