An Irish health agency has issued a warning after the number of E. coli cases in the past 10 days reached three times as many compared to the same period in 2017.

The HSE Health Protection Surveillance Centre in Ireland said there had been 96 Verocytotoxigenic E. coli (VTEC) cases reported. VTEC are also known as Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC).

Investigators so far have not identified a specific reason for the increase in cases.

HSE advised consumers to wash hands before and after handling food, wash fruit and vegetables thoroughly before eating them and ensure ground meats are cooked all the way through.

Dr. Kevin Kelleher, HSE’s assistant national director, public health, said people should be careful about food safety during the heatwave to protect against food poisoning.

“This hot weather provides the right conditions for bacteria such as VTEC to grow and multiply on foods which can lead to high numbers of cases of food poisoning in adults and children,” he said.

“Not washing hands after handling raw meat, not washing fruits and vegetables, and undercooking minced meats such as beef burgers are common ways of getting food poisoning at this time of year.”

The Health Protection Surveillance Centre said there were 47 VTEC notifications in week 26 compared to between nine and 27 in the same week in the previous three years.

Out of these notifications at least 27 people were hospitalized.

“Of particular note was the high number and proportion of adult cases. Between weeks 1 and 25 (this year), 53 percent of VTEC notifications had been in children aged less than 15 years. In week 26, 40/47 — 85 percent — of notified cases were 15 years or older,” said the group.

A study in Ireland in 2013 showed VTEC was detected in 2.5 percent of samples of raw minced beef burgers and minced beef samples from retail and catering premises.

Eating meat, especially minced beef, that has not been thoroughly cooked can cause food poisoning. HSE said to ensure minced meat burgers are safe to eat, they should be cooked to a core temperature of 75 degrees C, or 165 degrees F.

VTEC can be found in the stool of an infected person and can be passed from person to person if hygiene or handwashing habits are inadequate.

Symptoms of VTEC infection vary but often include bloody diarrhoea and abdominal cramps and usually pass within five to ten days.

However, it can also cause Haemolytic Uraemic Syndrome (HUS) which can lead to kidney failure. HUS is more common in children under five and the elderly.

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