E. Coli explained as dozens of supermarket sandwiches recalled over bacteria outbreak

Photo shows a sensitivity testing of bacteria using the disc diffusion technique.
-Credit: (Image: Getty Images)


Shoppers are being urged to be aware of the perils of E. coli after several supermarkets recalled over 60 food items over suspected risks of contamination.

Tesco, Asda, Morrions and Boots are just some of the companies which have taken products off their shelves over the weekend, due to a possible E. coli outbreak that has resulted in hospitalisations across the UK - with 35 cases reported in Scotland.

The list of axed foods appears to be growing, as a recall notice for a certain sandwich only sold at WH Smith has also been issued by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) on Sunday (June 16).

While E. coli is an important bacteria that exists in our guts, it can cause serious problems if spread elsewhere. The NHS states that an infection can cause "serious illness" - and can be fatal in certain cases.

Here's what to know about E. coli, including signs of infection and how to prevent spreading, as explained by the NHS.

What is E. coli?

E. coli, fully named Escherichia Coli, is bacteria that naturally occurs in human bowels. While it's not harmful in this state, it becomes serious when spread to new areas like cuts and scratches.

An E. coli infection will require medical treatment, usually in the form of antibiotics. Most people will recover from E. Coli within a week, but the elderly and children under five are at a higher risk for developing a condition called haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS).

This can result in kidney failure and death, all though the NHS highlights that this is rare.

How can E. coli spread?

Dirty kitchen food preparation chopping board and knife.
The bacteria can spread through exposed cooking equipment -Credit:Getty Images

E. coli is released from the body through faeces and can be spread if hands aren't washed properly after using the toilet.

This can cause it to spread surfaces, which can be picked up by other people through touching. When it reach opens passages like wounds or the mouth, this is how an infection occurs.

It can also be spread through food sources, like raw meat or soiled vegetables, according to the FSA. E. coli can spread between cooking equipment like chopping boards and other surfaces that have been contaminated.

What are the signs and symptoms of E. coli infections?

MAn with a fever
A fever can be a sign of E. coli infection -Credit:Getty Images

Symptoms of E. coli depending on location of infection, but the more typical signs seen include:

  • Very high temperature

  • Shivers and chills

  • Not passing urine

  • Confusion

  • Diarrhoea or bloody stool

Who is at risk of E.coli infections?

Anyone can pick up an E. coli infection, and this is usually self-transmitted (caused by the bugs in your bowel). However, you are more at risk of an E. coli infection if you fall into any of the categories below:

  • Older person

  • Diabetic

  • Dehydrated

  • Urinary catheter

  • Intravenous device (PICC or Hickman Line)

  • Gallbladder or kidney stones

  • Enlarged prostate or other prostate problems

How can E. coli infections be prevented?

E. coli infections cannot always be completely prevented; however, you can reduce the risk of getting an infection by:

  • Washing your hands after using the toilet

  • Washing your hands before preparing and eating food

  • Washing your hands before touching a catheter or changing the bag

  • Not touching catheters, Intravenous lines or open wounds unnecessarily

  • Women should wipe front to back after going to the toilet

  • Keeping hydrated. Drink plenty of fluid each day

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