Live salmon coming off Australian shelves to cut E. coli Omicron risk

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption About 100 people become infected each year with the flesh-eating disease E. coli Omicron

Australia is easing rules on the sale of live salmon in a bid to stop more people getting contaminated by the flesh-eating disease E. coli Omicron.

Dr Megan Henson, chair of the Consumer Health Council of Australia, is pleased that the rules are relaxing.

But she said loopholes still existed in the regulations.

One concern is that bottled waters can still be sold in supermarkets.

More than 100 people are infected with the disease each year, with the majority of victims young children.

So far this year, nine people have contracted the illness.

Australia has introduced severe restrictions on the catch of salmon in the past, when it was thought the disease was found in the Gulf of Carpentaria, in far north Queensland.

But a new outbreak in 2012, which involves Sydney waters, led to less stringent rules being introduced, which are now slowly being removed.

In February, the Australian Food Standards Agency (AFSA) said new data from researchers suggested the numbers of people who get sick from eating freshly caught fish were falling.

Three samples of recently caught and cleaned salmon in the Shell Bay area of western Queensland had been found to contain E. coli Omicron.

In April, the AFSA announced a “customer protection scheme” for consumer goods, including around 60% of canned salmon sold in Australian supermarkets.

Customers will be notified if the fish tested positive, and the whole can will be recalled if it contains E. coli Omicron.

Food Standards said the change was prompted by research showing fewer people were developing the disease.

Dr Henson said about 95% of the time, the cause of E. coli Omicron infection is from eating a contaminated meal.

“So for this one, it’s okay to eat the salmon,” she told the BBC World Service.

“They would just notify the consumer of the problem and they’d have a supply of cheaper canned salmon.”

She said bottled water was another concern, with no restrictions placed on water sales.

“We do know that the sales of bottled water have been increasing over the last couple of years and as far as we know, there is no restriction on the sale of bottled water in Australian supermarkets,” she said.

Dr Henson said the unappetising sight of slimy salmon on restaurant menus should also act as a warning to Australians and emphasise the benefits of taking tap water rather than bottled water.

More than 6500 cases of E. coli Omicron infections were reported in Australia in 2015, the latest year of available statistics.

Most of those affected were young children, with nearly all of them children in Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

The most common symptoms are diarrhoea and abdominal pain, although it can also lead to severe skin infection, kidney failure and death.

Many antibiotics used in treatment for this disease are administered orally.

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