Almost 40 hospitalised in E.coli outbreak 'linked to nationally distributed food item'

File photo of a hospital ward
-Credit: (Image: Peter Byrne/PA Wire)

Almost 40 people have been admitted to hospital with an E.coli strain that can cause 'bloody diarrhoea'. The outbreak has been potentially linked to food distributed nationally.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said most of the 113 cases reported across the UK between May 25 and June 4 were part of a single outbreak, with mostly young adults affected. Due to the "wide geographic spread of cases" - 81 in England, 18 in Wales, 13 in Scotland and one person in Northern Ireland who believes they fell ill in England - the agency believes it could be linked to a nationally distributed food item, or multiple food items.

All the cases recorded in the outbreak involve Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O145 (STEC), with those affected ranging in age from two to 79. So far, 61 of those identified so far in England have provided information to the UKHSA related to food, travel and potential exposures and at least 37 of those were admitted to hospital.

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People infected with STEC can suffer diarrhoea, and around half of those will have bloody diarrhoea. Other symptoms, which can last up to two weeks in uncomplicated cases, include stomach cramps and fever.

Some sufferers, mainly children, could develop haemolytic uraemic syndrome - a serious life-threatening condition that results in kidney failure. A small proportion of adults could develop a similar condition called thrombotic thrombocytopaenic purpura (TTP).

STEC is often transmitted by eating contaminated food, but can also be spread by close contact with an infected person. Trish Mannes, incident director at UKHSA, said: "If you have diarrhoea and vomiting, you can take steps to avoid passing it on to family and friends.

"Washing your hands with soap and warm water and using disinfectants to clean surfaces will help stop infections from spreading. If you are unwell with diarrhoea and vomiting, you should not prepare food for others while unwell and avoid visiting people in hospitals or care homes to avoid passing on the infection in these settings. Do not return to work, school or nursery until 48 hours after your symptoms have stopped."

The UKHSA said it was working with public health agencies in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and Food Standards Scotland to determine the cause of people's illness. Darren Whitby, head of incidents and resilience at the FSA, said it was working to identify the source of the illness "which is likely to be linked to one or more food items".

People suffering with symptoms should call NHS 111 or contact their GP surgery if they are worried about a baby under 12 months, or if a child stops breast or bottle feeding while they are ill. Help should also be sought if a child under five has signs of dehydration, or if older children or adults still have signs of dehydration after using oral rehydration sachets. The UKHSA also recommends seeking medical advice if people are being sick and cannot keep fluid down, there is bloody diarrhoea or bleeding from the bottom, diarrhoea lasts more than seven days or vomiting for more than two days.