Symptoms of E.coli as outbreak sweeps the UK - and when to seek medical advice

Unhappy woman holding hands on stomach suffering from abdominal pain with eyes closed. Women having menstrual period, food poisoning, gastritis or diarrhea. Girl feeling unwell sitting in living room.
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Health chiefs are urging people to take extra care after an outbreak of E. coli left dozens of people in hospital. There have been 113 cases of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) in the UK since May 25.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), together with public health agencies in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, are investigating the rise and trying to establish its source. And they have issued guidance on what to look out for as well as what to do if you think you have it.

Infections caused by STEC bacteria can cause severe bloody diarrhoea and, in some cases, more serious complications. It 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 its environment.

How can I reduce the risk of catching or spreading E.coli

While the source of this outbreak is currently unknown, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of gastrointestinal infections, as well as limiting the spread to others:

  • regularly wash your hands with warm water and soap — alcohol gels do not kill all bugs that cause diarrhoeal illness

  • follow food hygiene measures such as washing fruit and vegetables and cooking food properly

  • if you have diarrhoea and vomiting, you should not prepare food for others and avoid visiting people in hospitals or care homes to avoid passing on the infection

  • you should not return to work, school or nursery until 48 hours after your symptoms have stopped

What symptoms should I watch for?

According to Trish Mannes, Incident Director at UKHSA there are a number of symptoms to look out for. These include:

  • Vomiting

  • severe diarrhoea which can be watery and or bloody

  • stomach cramps

  • fever

When should I seek medical advice?

Most people who have the infection are likely to recover with care at home. However rarely the symptoms can be severe or even life-threatening.

According to the FSA some people infected with STEC may go on to develop more severe complications, such as haemolytic-uraemic syndrome (HUS). HUS can lead to kidney failure and the risk of HUS is highest in children aged under five years.

STEC infection is more likely to occur in vulnerable groups such as those young in age and those with a weakened immune system. You should call NHS 111 or contact your GP surgery if:

  • you're worried about a baby under 12 months

  • your child stops breast or bottle feeding while they're ill

  • a child under 5 years has signs of dehydration, such as fewer wet nappies

  • you or your child (over 5 years) still have signs of dehydration after using oral rehydration sachets

  • you or your child keep being sick and cannot keep fluid down

  • you or your child have bloody diarrhoea or bleeding from the bottom

  • you or your child have diarrhoea for more than 7 days or vomiting for more than 2 days

NHS 111 will give you advice. They can arrange a phone call from a nurse or doctor if you need one.