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UK agencies issue E. coli advice amid case surge

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UK health bodies are investigating an increase in the number of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) cases in the UK in recent weeks.

As of June 4, there have been 113 confirmed cases associated with this outbreak of STEC O145 in the UK, all reported since 25 May 2024.

Typically, there are around 1,500 cases o STEC over a full year.

While the source of the outbreak has not yet been confirmed, it is believed to be linked to ‘a nationally distributed food item or multiple food items,’ the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said in a press release.

However, the health body did not specify which item or items could be to blame.

Darren Whitby, Head of Incidents and Resilience at the Food Standard 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. You can find more information about good hygiene practises – 4c’s, and E. coli on our website.”

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.

Numbers of confirmed cases associated with the outbreak are expected to rise as further samples undergo whole genome sequencing.

Cases range in age from 2 years old to 79 years old, with the majority of cases in young adults.

Of the 81 cases identified to date in England, 61 have provided information to UKHSA related to food, travel and potential exposures and of these, 61 per cent have been hospitalised.

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