More than 100 Brits have been struck down by a mystery E.coli outbreak in under a fortnight, health officials have revealed in a warning.  

The source of the outbreak of Shiga toxin-producing E.coli (STEC), a rare strain of the diarrhoea-causing bug, has not yet been uncovered. 

But the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said it believes cases are linked to a ‘nationally distributed food item’ or ‘multiple food items’ and say they are investigating the cause. 

Over half of those known to have been infected by the bacteria have become so severely ill they needed hospital care. 

Victims include children as young as two, though the majority are in young adults, according to UK health and food watchdogs.   

Officials have not yet traced the source of the outbreak of Shiga toxin-producing E.coli (STEC), a rare strain of the diarrhoea-causing bug. But they believe it is linked to a 'nationally distributed food item' or 'multiple food items'

Officials have not yet traced the source of the outbreak of Shiga toxin-producing E.coli (STEC), a rare strain of the diarrhoea-causing bug. But they believe it is linked to a 'nationally distributed food item' or 'multiple food items'

Officials have not yet traced the source of the outbreak of Shiga toxin-producing E.coli (STEC), a rare strain of the diarrhoea-causing bug. But they believe it is linked to a ‘nationally distributed food item’ or ‘multiple food items’

Symptoms of Shiga Toxin producing E.coli include severe diarrhoea and vomiting, according to the UK Health Security Agency

Symptoms of Shiga Toxin producing E.coli include severe diarrhoea and vomiting, according to the UK Health Security Agency

Symptoms of Shiga Toxin producing E.coli include severe diarrhoea and vomiting, according to the UK Health Security Agency 

UKHSA said a total of 113 cases have been logged between May 25 and June 4.

Of these, 81 were in England, with 18 in Wales and 13 in Scotland. 

Just one case has been recorded in Northern Ireland though officials say this individual likely caught the bug in England. 

Almost two thirds (61 per cent) of cases in England have become so ill they needed to be hospitalised. 

STEC is primarily spread by eating contaminated foods, such as raw vegetables that have not been washed or stored correctly or from undercooked meat. 

It can also be spread by touching infected animals or their faeces, either directly or through contaminated water, and coming into contact with other people who are sick and then touching their face and mouth without properly washing their hands. 

But UKHSA said current evidence points to a food-based origin of the current outbreak.

‘The source of this outbreak is not yet confirmed but there is currently no evidence linking the outbreak to open farms, drinking water or swimming in contaminated sea, lakes or rivers,’ it said. 

The agency, however, expects cases to continue to rise as further testing gets underway. 

Professor Nicola Holden, a bacteriologist and a member of Applied Microbiology International’s Food Security Advisory Group, said: ‘STEC has been with us since the 1980s. 

‘It is a continually evolving bacteria that, as a group, has a high degree of genetic diversity. 

‘Sometimes that makes it difficult to detect pathogens from surveillance efforts that may have the potential to cause disease, because their genetics don’t always follow a predictable pattern that definitively identify them as such.’

STEC is considered to be extremely infectious, only a few bacteria need to be ingested for a person to become ill. 

Symptoms of infection include vomiting, fever, stomach cramps and diarrhoea which can last up to two weeks. 

But in up to 15 per cent of cases, the bug can cause haemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a life-threatening condition that can lead to kidney failure.

Children under the age of five are at the highest risk of HUS.

However, it can also affect other vulnerable groups, including the elderly and immunocompromised. 

Trish Mannes, incident director at UKHSA, said urged Brits to take steps to avoid catching or potentially passing the infection on to others. 

‘Washing your hands with soap and warm water and using disinfectants to clean surfaces will help stop infections from spreading,’ she said. 

‘If you are unwell with diarrhoea and vomiting, you should not prepare food for others while unwell and avoid visiting people in hospitals or care homes to avoid passing on the infection in these settings. 

‘Do not return to work, school or nursery until 48 hours after your symptoms have stopped.’

Britain’s food safety watchdog The Food Standards Agency is also assisting UKHSA to ‘identify the source of the illness’. 

People have been advised to contact NHS 111 or their GP if they or their children show any symptoms of E.coli infection.  

For children under five these can include disinterest in breast or bottle feeding and signs of dehydration such as fewer wet nappies.

Both adults and children are advised to call NHS 111 or their GP if they keep vomiting for two days or have diarrhoea for a week.

Anyone suffering bloody diarrhoea or bleeding from the bottom should call NHS 111 or their GP immediately. 

Source: Mail Online

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