Public Health England (PHE) is investigating an outbreak of a strain of E. coli O157 which may be associated with eating leafy salad. To date 84 cases (figure correct as at 1 July 2016) of this strain of E. Coli have been identified (77 in England, 5 in Wales, 1 in the Channel Islands and 1 in Scotland) with the majority of cases confirmed in the South West of England.
PHE has been working to establish the cause of the outbreak and identified that several of the affected individuals ate salad items prior to becoming unwell, although no individual supplier has been identified as the source. PHE is now reminding people to maintain good hygiene and food preparation practices in response to the current outbreak.
E.coli O157 infection can cause a range of symptoms, from mild diarrhoea to bloody diarrhoea with severe abdominal pain. On rare occasions, it can also cause more serious medical conditions and can be caught by eating infected food or by contact with infected animals. It can also be passed from an infected individual to another person if hand and toilet hygiene is poor.
Dr Isabel Oliver, director of PHE’s field epidemiology service, said:
PHE has put in place heightened surveillance for this strain of E.coli and is and carefully monitoring the reporting of cases across the entire country. To assist with this investigation, we have convened a national outbreak control team to identify the source of infection and to ensure all necessary control measures are put in place.
We continue to stress the importance of good hand and food hygiene practices at all times. It is vital to wash hands thoroughly using soap and water after using the toilet, before and after handling food and after contact with any animal and pets, including farm animals. Small children should also be supervised when washing their hands.
We also urge people to remove any loose soil before storing vegetables and thoroughly wash all vegetables, fruit and salad items that will be eaten raw. These measures may reduce the risk of infection from any E.coli contaminated vegetables, fruit and salad but will not eliminate any risk of infection completely. PHE will work alongside the Food Standards Agency to provide any further necessary public health advice as investigations continue.
The particular strain involved in the outbreak has been identified as phage type (PT) 34.
Read more information about E.coli O157 on NHS Choices