Japan Battles Deadly Bacteria

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TOKYO: Haruo Atsuzawa is paying the price of negligence. The Japanese kindergarten prinicpal has received a two-year suspended jail sentence for inadvertantly causing the deaths of two children. Atsuzawa's students died in 1990 after he failed to decontaminate well water infected with the deadly 0157 E.coli bacteria, even after public health workers warned him about the problem. The sentence comes at a time when Japan is suffering through a new outbreak of the same bacteria, this time affecting mostly children. Seven are dead, and more than 8,700 are sick after E.coli contaminated lunches showed up in Sakai, about 300 miles west of Tokyo. Now, after taking some time to understand the seriousness of the disease, tense federal health officials are examining hundreds of school lunches, disinfecting the schools and treating the sick for free. The sluggish response to the infection is raising questions about the Japanese government's ability to cope with medical emergencies. "The World Health Organization says this outbreak is the worst in modern history," reports TIME's Frank Gibney from Tokyo. "The culprit is a particularly virulent strain of e.Coli bacteria that originates in animal intestines. Although it is seldom fatal, the bacterium is one of the world's most agile and potent bacilli, almost impossible to stop once it is loose in the human food chain." Symptoms of 0157 E.coli infection include dehydration, stomach pains and bloody diarrhea. A severe case of the infection can lead to kidney failure and brain damage. -->