Urgent E coli health warning as more than 100 cases linked to ‘nationally distributed’ food

113 ecoli cases in a fortnight are thought to have been spread via food distributed  (Janice Haney Carr/Wikimedia)
113 ecoli cases in a fortnight are thought to have been spread via food distributed (Janice Haney Carr/Wikimedia)

The UK’s public health authority has sounded the alarm over E-coli poisoning after an outbreak of more than 100 cases reported in less than two weeks.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said on Thursday that it is likely the outbreak is linked to “a nationally distributed food item or multiple food items.”

It said there is no evidence the outbreak is linked to open farms, drinking water, or swimming in contaminated seawater, lakes or rivers.

The health authority confirmed there have been 113 confirmed cases of Shiga toxin-producing E-coli (STEC), associated with the outbreak, since 25 May. 81 cases are in England, 18 in Wales, 13 in Scotland and one in Northern Ireland.

The cases range from children aged two to 79-years-olds. The majority of cases are described as young adults.

Out of the 81 cases in England, 61 have given UKHSA information related to food, travel and potential exposures, and of those 61 per cent were hospitalised.

Typically, around 1,500 cases of this type of e-coli are seen in the UK in a year.

“Numbers of confirmed cases associated with this outbreak are expected to rise as further samples undergo whole genome sequencing,” the UKHSA added.

In December, it confirmed 30 cases of E-coli (STEC) had been recorded across England and Scotland, where one person with the infection died.

In March, the university Boat Race’s organisers warned rowers not to enter the water on safety grounds after high levels of E-coli bacteria were found in the River Thames along the course.

Infections caused by STEC bacteria can lead to severe bloody diarrhoea, and sometimes more serious complications.

The UKHSA said it is often transmitted by eating contaminated food, but can also be spread through close contact with an infected person, as well as direct contact with an infected animal or its environment.

The public have been advised to regularly wash their hands, follow food hygiene measures such as washing fruit and vegetables, and avoid visiting people in hospitals or care homes to avoid passing on the infection.

Darren Whitby, head of incidents and resilience at the Food Standards Agency, 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.”