Health officials in the Republic of Ireland have issued a warning after an increase in E. coli cases and outbreaks in recent weeks.

The Department of Public Health Mid-West reported that in a four week period there have been more than 20 E. coli cases reported in the region, including several hospitalizations.

Public health teams have managed and investigated outbreaks and cases in households and rural settings, particularly on or near farms, and sites with access to a private well supply. Sources of infection are under investigation.

Officials also confirmed a “small number” of hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) cases. HUS is a type of kidney failure associated with E. coli infection.

The Mid-West region, which includes Clare, Limerick and North Tipperary, has one of the top rates of E. coli in the country, and Ireland has one of the highest rates in Europe.

In the past decade, there have been 1,250 cases of E. coli in the Mid-West region, with the highest number being 164 infections in 2021.

Infection can be acquired through contact with farm animals or their environment, from eating unwashed or undercooked contaminated food, drinking water from contaminated sources, and from contact with infected people such as in household or childcare settings where there are nappy changing or shared toilet facilities.

Meanwhile, an E. coli outbreak in Scotland has affected at least 50 people. Two nurseries in East Lothian have now reopened. Some patients were hospitalized but most people had mild symptoms and did not require hospital treatment.

Public Health Wales also recently reported an increase in cases of diarrhea and vomiting, specifically those caused by E. coli, in the Wrexham and Flintshire areas.

About E. coli infections
Anyone who has developed symptoms of E. coli infection should seek medical attention and tell their doctor about their possible food poisoning. Specific tests are required to diagnose the infections, which can mimic other illnesses.

The symptoms of E. coli infections vary for each person but often include severe stomach cramps and diarrhea, which is often bloody. Some patients may also have a fever. Most patients recover within five to seven days. Others can develop severe or life-threatening symptoms and complications, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

About 5 to 10 percent of those diagnosed with E. coli infections develop a potentially life-threatening kidney failure complication, known as a hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). Symptoms of HUS include fever, abdominal pain, feeling very tired, decreased frequency of urination, small unexplained bruises or bleeding, and pallor. 

Many people with HUS recover within a few weeks, but some suffer permanent injuries or death. This condition can occur among people of any age but is most common in children younger than five years old because of their immature immune systems, older adults because of deteriorating immune systems, and people with compromised immune systems such as cancer patients. 

People who experience HUS symptoms should immediately seek emergency medical care. People with HUS will likely be hospitalized because the condition can cause other serious and ongoing problems such as hypertension, chronic kidney disease, brain damage, and neurologic problems.

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