A link between gastroenteritis, caused by E coli bacteria, and hypertension leading to renal and cardiovascular disease has been established. This finding stresses the importance of attention to good hygiene when preparing food and drink. While we may believe we are careful in the home environment, unfortunately we are unable to control or predict problems with public systems such as the water supply. Investment in a reliable water filtration device for the home may be a prudent preventative measure against gastroenteritis. Washing fruit and vegetables before consumption and paying attention to use-by dates on packaged food in addition to checks for odour and discoloration will also help to avoid the contamination which leads to gastroenteritis.
Gastroenteritis is a common illness of short duration that affects most people from time to time. Usually it is contracted through ingesting contaminated food or water. Many types of micro-organisms have the ability to induce attacks of gastroenteritis or food poisoning; the most notorious cases include Salmonella, Shigella, E coli, Campylobacter and Cholera species.
Some severe epidemics of Cholera have occurred around the world such as the epidemics in England and Wales during the mid 1800’s during which over a hundred thousand people were killed and many other had to flee their homes. In this specific case the water in the river Thames became contaminated by leaking and overflowing cesspits of human and animal waste. However, even though medical and environmental microbiology has advanced enough to understand the causes of gastroenteritis and the preventative measures necessary to protect the community water supplies, accidents continue to occur.
More recently, in May 2000, an outbreak of severe gastroenteritis hit residents of Walkerton , Ontario in Canada , leaving over 2000 people ill. The pathogen was identified as an E coli species known to cause between 50 000 and 120 000 cases of gastroenteritis each year in the United States alone. In Walkerton the outbreak was due to the transport of livestock waste by heavy rainfall into drinking water catchments found to be under-chlorinated.
A six year health study was commenced in 2002 to monitor any long term health effects in individuals affected by gastroenteritis during the outbreak. Researchers found a significant increase in hypertension in these individuals four years post infection. At the conclusion of the study the results indicate that gastroenteritis caused by E coli and Campylobacter species places an individual at increased risk of developing hypertension, renal disease and cardiovascular disease.
The researchers suggest that anyone who contracts acute gastroenteritis should have a blood pressure check performed annually in order to identify signs of hypertension. Early detection of hypertension means that the condition may be treated to prevent the more serious secondary conditions such as renal dysfunction and cardiovascular disease from developing.
Clark, W et al, 2010, Long term risk for hypertension, renal impairment, and cardiovascular disease after gastroenteritis from drinking water contaminated with Escherichia coli O157:H7: a prospective cohort study , BMJ;341:c6020, viewed 24 November, 2010,http://www.bmj.com/content/341/bmj.c6020.full