Image copyright Mary Ruddett Image caption Dr Mary Ruddett said a study about E. coli infection in children will look at what’s in their guts
A researcher from the University of Calgary in Canada is to study the link between viruses in children’s guts and E. coli infections.
Dr Mary Ruddett said she hoped to understand how the two interact and when E. coli started spreading from someone’s own intestines.
The study will cost £4.5m and will look into the condition known as bacterial enteritis.
Dr Ruddett said it could lead to treatments to stop E. coli becoming life-threatening.
More than 500 people in the UK die each year from E. coli 0157 infections.
Image copyright Dr Mary Ruddett Image caption Dr Ruddett said E. coli could lead to life-threatening conditions
Dr Ruddett said two-thirds of cases involved patients with group B streptococcus bacteria in their gut. This bacterium is responsible for a particular strain of E. coli that is usually harmless, but can become dangerous if large numbers of the bacterium are present.
Another third of E. coli cases had been linked to Mycobacterium gonorrhoeae, the bacteria which causes gonorrhoea.
E. coli can also sometimes be linked to consumption of animal faeces and to contamination of water supplies.
“What happens if we continue to get similar viruses in the gut of one person and the E. coli can come in from somewhere else, because they are not going to get eaten by a mosquito and they are not going to get washed up into the water supply, and E. coli can persist and therefore have a hard time breaking down in our gut and then in our blood,” Dr Ruddett said.
“We haven’t really understood that. It makes sense, but we need to know what’s happening in the human body when the viruses occur and how do they interact.
“When this happens, something needs to be done about it, otherwise it’s going to continue to get bigger and bigger and bigger.”
Share Irish researchers also studied the impact of how E. coli gets into the human gut
In November, Irish researchers also looked at the relationship between E. coli and viruses that enter the human body through the mouth.
Dr Darren Nolan, who led the study, said: “So we were looking at how healthy people get infections of the GGT virus and E. coli that comes from human stool.
“And when you look at the answer, the amount of human stool that has bacteria in it is actually very small – usually 100 times less than what we would see in an otherwise healthy individual’s stool.”
Dr Nolan said he was now working on the next stage of the study, examining “what’s really going on in the human body that allows the E. coli to penetrate”.
He added: “This is not only going to be applicable in terms of disease risk, but there are also ways in which we might be able to potentially cure E. coli infections, because the pathogen is actually following these different bugs and it’s going to be very difficult to decontaminate.”