Public Health England is investigating a spike in reports of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) infections this month.

Potential sources of the increase in E. coli O157 cases are not yet clear but recent warm weather may have played a role.

The latest available data shows in the week ending Aug. 16, there were 27 E. coli O157 notifications. The past four weeks had seen 11, 13, 6 and 7 respectively.

Based on 2019 statistics for the week ending Aug. 18, there were 13 E. coli O157 notifications. The previous four weeks had three weeks with 12 and one with 14.

Source as yet unknown
“Since the beginning of August, Public Health England has noted a general increase in reports of E. coli O157 infections, in particular in the West and East Midlands,” said a PHE statement sent to Food Safety News.

“An increase in E. coli activity at this time of year is not unusual, especially given recent climatic conditions. Public Health England is actively investigating this situation. A possible source of these outbreaks remains unclear at this point in time.”

Some services at the gastrointestinal bacteria reference unit (GBRU), which is part of PHE, have been suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, detection of STEC from stool specimens and isolates using PCR and confirmation of identity and typing of Salmonella, Shigella, STEC and Listeria using whole genome sequencing are continuing.

Precautions for public
Symptoms of E. coli infection include abdominal cramps and diarrhea that can become bloody. Fever and vomiting may also occur. The incubation period can range from three to eight days and most patients recover within 10 days.

HUS is a serious condition that can lead to kidney failure, permanent health problems, and even death. It is most often triggered by STEC infection, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Early symptoms include decreased urine output, diarrhea, and feeling slow and tired. HUS usually develops one to two weeks after initial symptoms of E. coli infection.

E. coli is transmitted to humans primarily through consumption of contaminated food, such as raw or undercooked ground meat, raw milk, and raw vegetables and sprouts.

“E. coli can cause a serious infection in those with weakened immune systems or vulnerable groups, including babies, the elderly or pregnant women,” according to PHE.

“Some infections can be severe and people who are infected may go on to develop complications which may be life-threatening. As with all instances of diarrhea and vomiting, it is important that people keep hydrated and stay away from work or school for as long as symptoms persist. If you do notice blood in your stool, contact your GP immediately.”

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