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Ongoing E.coli outbreak – what has happened so far?

A person washes their hands under a tap (Philip Toscano/PA)
A person washes their hands under a tap (Philip Toscano/PA)

A number of food manufacturers have recalled certain sandwiches, wraps and salads sold in major supermarkets and retail chains over fears they are linked to an outbreak of E.coli.

More than 200 cases of the infection have been confirmed across the UK so far.

The figure is expected to rise as whole genome sequencing is ongoing to find any further cases which may be linked to the outbreak.

Here, the PA news agency takes a look at the developing situation.

– What has happened?

Earlier this month, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) warned that E.coli cases reported across the UK were part of a single outbreak.

Due to the “wide geographic spread of cases”, the agency said it believed this was linked to a nationally distributed food item or multiple food items.

On June 14, major food manufacturers issued product recall notices relating to a variety of sandwiches, wraps and salads.

– What companies are impacted?

Greencore Group was the first company to issue a product recall on June 14, closely followed by Samworth Brothers Manton Wood. Food maker THIS! has since recalled its vegan chicken and bacon wrap.

– Where are the products sold?

The products being recalled by Greencore include sandwiches, wraps and salads sold at Sainsbury’s, Asda, Aldi, Morrisons, Co-op, and retail pharmacy chain Boots.

Samworth Brothers Manton Wood is recalling various Tesco and One Stop sandwiches and wraps.

The recall by THIS! only relates to its vegan chicken and bacon wrap, which is sold only at WH Smith.

What should I do if I have bought one of these products?

Officials have advised any customers with these products not to eat them.

Retailers have also stressed that these products should not be consumed and customers should return them to the store they were purchased from for a full refund.

Bacterial colony in petri dishes (Alamy/PA)
Bacterial colony in petri dishes (Alamy/PA)

– What is E.coli?

E. coli are a diverse group of bacteria found in the intestines of humans and animals. They are normally harmless, although some strains can make people very ill.

– What strain is this outbreak related to?

All the cases recorded in the outbreak involve Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O145 (Stec).

According to UKHSA, there are typically about 1,500 Stec infections over a full year.

– How many people have been infected during this outbreak so far?

As of June 11, the total number of confirmed cases is 211. The outbreak is UK-wide.

Of the total, some 147 patients are located in England, 27 in Wales, 35 in Scotland and two in Northern Ireland – although it is believed they were infected while in England.

UKHSA said confirmed cases associated with this outbreak are expected to rise as further samples undergo whole genome sequencing.

– What are the symptoms?

People infected with Stec can suffer diarrhoea, stomach cramps and fever. About 50% of cases can develop bloody diarrhoea.

– How long do these last?

Symptoms can last up to two weeks in uncomplicated cases.

However, virologists have warned the illness can be much worse in young children, elderly people and those with underlying conditions in their immune system.

– How is infection spread?

Stec is usually transmitted by eating contaminated food, but can also be spread by close contact with an infected person, or direct contact with an infected animal or its environment.

– How do you prevent E.coli infection?

You can prevent E.coli by ensuring you wash pre-prepared bag salad, fruits and vegetables and cook them thoroughly.

The UKHSA also advises people to regularly wash their hands with soap and water, as alcohol gel does not kill all bugs that cause diarrhoeal illness.

Hand-washing is particularly important after using the toilet and before preparing food.

– What should I do if I have symptoms?

If you do have symptoms, like diarrhoea and vomiting, do not prepare food for others and do not visit people in hospitals or care homes to avoid passing on the infection.

People should also not attend work, school or nursery until 48 hours after symptoms have stopped.

UKHSA advises people to call NHS 111 or contact their GP surgery if they are concerned about a baby under 12 months, if a child stops breast or bottle feeding while they’re ill, or if child under give years of age shows signs of dehydration, such as fewer wet nappies.

You should also seek medical help if signs of dehydration persist after using oral rehydration sachets, if you or your child can not stop being sick or keep fluid down, if you or your child has bloody diarrhoea, or if diarrhoea last for more than seven days and vomiting more than two days.

– Are there any risk of complications from a Stec infection?

Some cases, involving children in particular, can result in haemolytic uraemic syndrome, a serious life-threatening condition resulting in kidney failure.

A small proportion of adults may develop a similar condition called thrombotic thrombocytopaenic purpura (TTP).