Health warning after E.coli outbreak linked to 'nationally distributed food item' hospitalises 37

6 June 2024, 13:56 | Updated: 6 June 2024, 14:19

An urgent health warning has been issued due to an E.coli outbreak
An urgent health warning has been issued due to an E.coli outbreak. Picture: Alamy

By Flaminia Luck

An urgent health warning has been issued after an E.coli outbreak was linked to a "nationally distributed food item".

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The UK Health Security Agency have not named the food item thought to be responsible for the outbreak but it has hospitalised around 37 people in England already and the bacteria can cause "severe bloody diarrhoea".

On Wednesday, the UKHSA said testing show most of the 113 cases reported are "part of a single outbreak" but did not give more details about the "food item" thought to be responsible.

The infection can cause symptoms such as sickness, stomach cramps and fever.

The UKHSA UKHSA are investigating an increase in the number of E.coli cases in the UK
The UKHSA are investigating an increase in the number of E.coli cases in the UK. Picture: UKHSA

The cases range in age from two years old to 79, with the majority of the infections in young adults.

There have been 113 confirmed cases associated with this outbreak, all reported since 25 May 2024 to 4 June.

  • 81 in England
  • 18 in Wales
  • 13 in Scotland
  • 1 in Northern Ireland (for this case, evidence suggests that they acquired their infection while visiting England)

In a statement, the agency said: "Based on the wide geographic spread of cases, it is most likely that this outbreak is linked to a nationally distributed food item or multiple food items."

E.coli 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.

However, the UKHSA ruled out the disease spreading through water, adding there was "currently no evidence linking the outbreak to open farms, drinking water or swimming in contaminated seawater, lakes or rivers."

Washing your hands with soap and warm water will help stop infections from spreading
The UKHSA has recommended regular hand washing. Picture: Getty

Darren Whitby, head of incidents and resilience at the Food Standards Agency (FSA), said: "The FSA is working with UKHSA and relevant public health bodies to identify the source of the illness, which is likely to be linked to one or more food items.

"We always advise consumers and those looking after vulnerable people to ensure good hygiene practices are followed when handling and preparing food, regularly washing hands with soap and warm water and ensuring equipment, utensils and surfaces foods come into contact with are cleaned thoroughly to prevent cross contamination.

"You should not prepare food for others if you have had symptoms, or for 48 hours after symptoms stop."

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While the source of this outbreak is currently unknown, there are steps people 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

Trish Mannes, Incident Director at UKHSA, said:

"Symptoms of infections with STEC include severe and sometimes bloody diarrhoea, stomach cramps, vomiting and fever.

"If you have diarrhoea and vomiting, you can take steps to avoid passing it on to family and friends. NHS.UK has information on what to do if you have symptoms and when to seek medical advice.

"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 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."

Further information and advice will be published as the investigation continues, the UKHSA said.

They added not all outbreak investigations identify a source, particularly for products that quickly leave the supply chain.

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