E. coli bacteria: why you should avoid giving certain cheeses to children

E. coli bacteria: why you should avoid giving certain cheeses to children

At what age can a child safely eat raw milk products? Many parents must ask themselves the question, after an 18-month-old baby and a 7-year-old girl were hospitalized in serious condition in the Lyon region. They had eaten morbierthis raw milk cheese from the Jura, contaminated by Escherichia coli bacteriasometimes abbreviated to E. coli.

“We thought we lost her,” Yohan Buisson, little Élise’s dad, tells us, indicating that his vital prognosis was compromised for a while. The little girl is now out of danger. “The brain is ok but on the other hand our little girl has not recovered her kidney functions. She needs daily dialysis to continue living and must adhere to a very strict diet,” he continues. How did an act as banal as eating cheese cause two hospitalizations? Explanations.

What is raw milk cheese?

Raw milk, that is to say not pasteurized or heated, is natural milk, as it comes from the cow’s (or goat’s) udder. It is placed on the market without prior heat treatment, and therefore particularly sensitive to contamination by pathogenic bacteria.

Not all Escherichia coli bacteria are harmful; some are naturally present in the human intestine without harming it. “Certain very specific subtypes of E. coli are ugly ducklings and can cause infections,” explains Doctor Paul Frappé, president of the College of General Medicine. The latter, generally not serious, can sometimes develop into a serious syndrome in children.

Which cheeses are affected?

Cheeses made from raw milk include Reblochon, Roquefort, Salers, Brie, Picodon, Pélardon, certain Camemberts, Morbier and Mont d’Or, indicates on his website the Ministry of Agriculture. It is therefore better to prefer cooked pressed cheeses (Emmental, Comté, Abondance, Beaufort, Gruyère, etc.), processed spreadable cheeses and pasteurized milk cheeses.

Contamination by E. coli bacteria can also occur through the ingestion of raw meat, or after touching animals carrying the bacteria in their contaminated environment.

What are the risks involved?

Although the E. coli bacteria may have only a slight impact on healthy adults, it is, however, likely to cause serious problems in sensitive people. It can cause diarrhea, sometimes bloody, vomiting and fever. “Taking antibiotics, a classic reflexcan lead to the release of toxins and aggravate the disease, leading to kidney, digestive or vascular damage,” adds Doctor Paul Frappé.

In rare cases (around 5% to 8%), the bacteria causes serious kidney dysfunction, which can lead, in the most serious situations, to hospitalization or even death. In the case of Élise, who has not recovered her kidney functions, the little girl could be obliged to receive a kidney transplant.

Who are the individuals at risk?

Health authorities recommend not giving raw milk cheese or raw milk to young children, particularly those under 5 years old. “Beyond that, the risk still exists but it decreases, children are still better protected beyond five years,” specifies the ministry.

“The disease can start in young children with a lower quantity of bacteria. This quantity increases the closer we get to adulthood,” explains Paul Frappé. The excess risk decreases with age up to 15 years, where it returns to normal according to studies.

These recommendations also concern pregnant women as well as immunocompromised peoplethat is to say already sick, very tired or even hospitalized.

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