E.coli symptoms, causes and how to avoid the infection

E.Coli cases are on the rise (Shutterstock)
E.Coli cases are on the rise (Shutterstock)

One person has died after contracting E.coli as warnings about the outbreak continue, it has been reported.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) confirmed that one person with an “underlying medical condition” died in May, becoming the first fatality reported.

The outbreak has also seen several food manufacturers recall sandwiches, wraps and salads, with the Food Standards Agency (FSA) saying the lettuce used was at risk.

Health officials said on Thursday that a further 19 cases of E.coli had been reported, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 275 in the UK.

All confirmed cases began experiencing symptoms before June 4, the UKHSA said.

So what is E.coli, what are the symptoms and can it be deadly? Here's what you should know:

What is E.coli?

E.coli is a common bacteria found in human and animal intestines.

Although most strains of E.coli are harmless, some can make you sick.

A common cause of infection is eating contaminated food.

E.coli can survive outside the body, so its levels serve as a measure of general hygiene and faecal contamination of the environment.

The bacteria are a common cause of cystitis, an infection of the bladder that occurs when there is a spread of the bacteria from the gut to the urinary system.

Some types of E.coli can also cause gastrointestinal infections or toxins that can cause severe illness.

What are the signs of infection?

Possible symptoms will depend on the type of E.coli strain.

Symptoms of intestinal infection generally begin between 1 and 10 days after you've been infected.

Common symptoms include:

  • abdominal cramping

  • diarrhoea

  • gas

  • loss of appetite

  • vomiting

  • fatigue

  • fever

Can E.coli be deadly?

Some infections can be severe and may be life-threatening.

One complication as a result of E.coli infection is called haemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) and may develop in 5-10 per cent of people infected with a toxin-producing form of E.coli.

This is a severe kidney-related complication that may, in extreme cases, lead to renal failure and the need for renal replacement therapy.

How is E.coli treated?

Again, the treatment will depend on the type of infection.

Cystitis infections usually go away by themselves after two to four days. In some cases, a short course of antibiotics may be administered.

Rehydration is the main source of treatment. Oral rehydration solutions are particularly helpful in children with diarrhoea as they also replace any sodium, potassium and glucose lost from the body.

How can E.coli be prevented?

Practising good hygiene is key to preventing the spread of E.coli, such as washing your hands thoroughly after using the bathroom and before and after preparing food.

Other tips for preventing the spread of E.coli include:

  • Wash fruits and vegetables under running water

  • cook meats thoroughly, always using a food thermometer to check that the meat has reached a safe internal temperature

  • don't cause cross contamination in food preparation areas

  • avoid raw milk, unpasteurised dairy products and juices

  • don't swallow water when swimming in lakes, ponds, streams and swimming pools