Enterobacter sakazakii

This is a rare type of infection which affects all ages although young children are particularly affected. Other groups such as babies and infants with a medical condition or a weakened immune system are also vulnerable.

These bacteria cause a variety of infections within the bloodstream and nervous system which can be fatal. One example of this is meningitis.

These bacteria are part of the ‘enterobacteriaceae’ family which also includes the e coli and salmonella bacteria.

This is known as E sakazakii for short.

The enterobacter sakazakii bacteria

These rod shaped bacteria have been linked to several outbreaks of this illness which have occurred in newborn babies, especially those which have been born prematurely. Many of these have occurred in neonatal baby units in various countries around the world.

Why does this illness affect babies and infants more than adults?

One reason for this is the fact that babies and infants have less stomach acid than adults which means that they are less effective at killing off infectious bacteria.

Another factor is that they have underdeveloped immune systems which cannot fight off disease and infection as well as an adult’s.

Causes of enterobacter sakazakii infection

This is difficult to pinpoint although the spate of outbreaks amongst babies and infants suggest that infant formulas may be to blame.

Note: an infant formula is a type of powder which is milk based and contains all the vitamins, minerals, protein and carbohydrates needed to support growth and development.

An infant formula is often preferred to breastfeeding.

The powdered formula appears to be a greater risk than the liquid based versions. The reason for this is that even both versions undergo heat treatment in order to kill any bacteria and sterilise the product; the liquid formula undergoes this for longer period of time which ensures that it is properly sterilised.

So, powdered infant formulas are not sterile compared to the liquid version which means that they are at greater risk of infection by the enterobacter sakazakii bacteria.

There is more than one strain of E sakazakii bacteria. Some strains are harmless but others are pathogenic which means that they cause disease and infection.

Symptoms of enterobacter sakazakii infection

These bacteria infect the bloodstream and nervous system which causes the following symptoms in babies and infants:

  • Seizures
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Unable to feed or difficulty in doing so
  • Jaundice
  • Irritability

These are symptomatic of the following conditions:

  • Meningitis
  • Enterocolitis
  • Sepsis

These can also cause hydrocephalus, brain abscesses and problems with growth and development.

Long term complications of this infection include autoimmune diseases and neurological damage.

Treatment for enterobacter sakazakii infection

Antibiotics are usually effective at treating this infection although over the last few years there has been a growing resistance to antibiotics by various strains of bacteria.

Prevention of enterobacter sakazakii infection

This means ensuring that appropriate food safety procedures are put in place as well as using ingredients that confirm to the highest standards.

One option is to use liquid infant formulas instead of the powdered versions.

Food Poisoning Guide

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