Public health officials in the United Kingdom are investigating an outbreak of E. coli O157 that has sickened almost 200 people in a month.
Since early September, 192 genetically linked cases of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) O157 have been identified in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.
The majority of people sick are adults but there have been no deaths linked to the incident.
No source for the rise in infections has yet been identified but patients are being interviewed to help find the vehicle of infection.
There have also been no cases of hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) reported. HUS is a type of kidney failure associated with E. coli infections that can result in lifelong, serious health problems and death.
Dr. Lesley Larkin, head of surveillance, gastrointestinal infections and food safety at the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), said a rise in E. coli cases notified to public health surveillance systems had been seen in recent weeks.
“The latest data shows early indications of a return back to expected levels for this time of year but we are continuing to closely monitor the situation. Whole genome sequencing shows us that this increase in reports is being driven by a particular strain of STEC O157 which has caused an outbreak, and we are investigating potential causes with public health and food safety experts in the UK and Ireland,” she said.
“Making sure you wash your hands with soap and water is the best way to stop this bug from spreading. When preparing food make sure you thoroughly wash salad, fruit and vegetables and follow all the safe cooking instructions for meat.”
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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