Gastrointestinal infections cause an estimated 17 million cases in the UK each year. Bacterial gastroenteritis is particularly common in summer months and outbreaks of zoonotic infections, such as campylobacteriosis, salmonellosis and Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) occur every year.
Although a vast majority of cases of gastroenteritis cause self- limiting diarrhoea, symptoms such as fever and diarrhoea can be mistaken for COVID-19. Certain gastrointestinal infections like STEC can cause serious complications such as haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS), and Listeria monocytogenes infections can be fatal in severely immunocompromised patients.
During the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the UK Government advice to stay at home and social distancing strategies have changed patterns of shopping, cooking and food consumption in the population. It is therefore important to be highly vigilant of complicated cases of gastroenteritis in the coming months.
Gastrointestinal bacteria reference unit (GBRU) is the reference laboratory for a range of gastrointestinal pathogens.
During COVID-19 the following critical services will continue:
Detection of STEC from stool specimens and confirmation of STEC isolates using PCR.
Detection of Clostridium botulinum and botulinum toxin from food, stool, serum and tissues.
Confirmation of identity and typing of Salmonella, Shigella, STEC and Listeria spp using whole genome sequencing.
Clinicians and laboratories are advised to continue submitting isolates and appropriate clinical samples to the GBRU for detection, identification and typing of bacterial pathogens.