Person dies after E. coli outbreak linked to lettuce leaves

Lettuce is suspected to be the source of the outbreak (Ben Birchall/PA)
-Credit: (Image: PA Archive/PA Images)

One person has died in connection with the E. coli outbreak, which experts believe is being spread through lettuce leaves. As of June 25, an additional 19 cases of Stec have been reported, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 275 across the UK.

Several food manufacturers have recalled sandwiches, wraps and salads sold in major supermarkets and retail chains due to concerns they may be connected to the outbreak. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has suggested that lettuce used in these products is likely the source of the outbreak.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) confirmed that two people in England died within 28 days of contracting shiga toxin-producing E. coli (Stec). "Based on the information available from health service clinicians one of these deaths is likely linked to their Stec infection," it stated. "Both individuals had underlying medical conditions. The deaths occurred in May."

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The UKHSA noted that while the number of cases it is seeing is declining, more will come to light as further samples are referred from NHS laboratories. To date, there have been 182 cases in England, 58 in Scotland, 31 in Wales and four in Northern Ireland.

The latter cases are believed to have contracted the infection in England. At least 122 people have required hospital treatment since the outbreak began. Darren Whitby, from the Food Standards Agency (FSA), has provided an update on the recent E. coli outbreak linked to sandwiches: "Earlier this month, we confirmed that several sandwich manufacturers had taken precautionary action to withdraw and recall various sandwiches, wraps, subs and rolls after food chain and epidemiological links enabled us to narrow down a wide range of foods to a type of lettuce used in sandwich products as the likely cause of the outbreak."

He continued, stressing the ongoing nature of the investigation: "This remains a complex investigation and we continue to work with the relevant businesses and the local authorities to ensure necessary steps are being taken to protect consumers."

Whitby further explained the current understanding of the situation: "Although we are confident in the likely source of the outbreak being linked to lettuce, work continues to confirm this and identify the root cause of the outbreak with the growers, suppliers and manufacturers so that actions can be taken to prevent a re-occurrence."

E. coli bacteria typically pose no threat and reside harmlessly in the guts of humans and animals.

However, certain strains, such as Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (Stec), can cause severe illness.

Symptoms of Stec infection include diarrhoea, often bloody, stomach cramps, and fever, which can persist for up to two weeks. In some cases, particularly among children, the infection can lead to haemolytic uraemic syndrome, a critical condition that causes kidney failure.

A small proportion of adults may develop a similar condition called thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (TTP).

Stec is often transmitted by eating contaminated food but can also be spread by close contact with an infected person, as well as direct contact with an infected animal or where it lives.

People are advised to call NHS 111 or contact their GP surgery if they are worried about a baby under 12 months, a child stops breast or bottle feeding while they are ill, a child under five has signs of dehydration such as fewer wet nappies, and if older children or adults still have signs of dehydration after using oral rehydration sachets.

Help should also be sought 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.