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Urgent E. coli warning after outbreak of more than 100 cases in the UK

More than 100 E. coli cases in a fortnight are suspected to be caused by a ‘nationally distributed food item’

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has issued an urgent warning after an outbreak of more than 100 E. coli cases in less than two weeks.

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

Given the geographical spread of the infection, UKHSA said that the outbreak is mostly likely caused by ‘a nationally distributed food item or multiple food items’.

It said that there was currently no evidence linking the outbreak to other potential E.coli sources such as petting farms, drinking water or swimming in contaminated sea, lakes or rivers.

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E. coli are a diverse group of bacteria that normally live in the intestines of humans and animals. Although many are harmless, some produce toxins that can make you sick.

It mainly affects children and 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. Infections caused by the STEC bacteria can cause bloody diarrhoea, stomach cramps, vomiting and fever.

The UKHSA has advised the public to take adequate measures to prevent further outbreaks.

Trish Mannes, incident director at UKHSA, said: ‘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 while unwell and avoid visiting people in hospitals or care homes to avoid passing on the infection in these settings.’

Meanwhile, the Food Standards Agency is working with UKHSA and relevant public health bodies to identify the source of the illness.