Increase in cases of E.coli infections due to hot weather

HSE advises greater care when preparing food and attention to hand hygiene

 E.coli strain. Photograph:  International Picture Researcher Science Photo Library

E.coli strain. Photograph: International Picture Researcher Science Photo Library

 

The Health Service Executive’s Health Protection Surveillance Centre has advised the public to take extra care when handling and preparing food following an increase in the number of VTEC (E.coli) infections in recent weeks.

Some 96 cases of VTEC cases have been notified in Ireland in the past 10 days, more than three times as high as this time last year.

VTEC are a type of E.coli that can live in the gut of healthy cattle and sheep. It is a common cause of food poisoning which can lead to serious complications.

VTEC can also be found in the stools of an infected person and can be passed from person to person if hygiene or hand-washing habits are inadequate.

Dr Kevin Kelleher, the HSE’s assistant national director for health protection, said while investigations haven’t identified a specific reason for the increase in cases, they want to remind people to be careful about food safety during this heatwave to protect themselves against food poisoning.

“This hot weather provides the right conditions for bacteria such as VTEC to grow and multiply on foods which can lead to high numbers of cases of food poisoning in adults and children. Not washing hands after handling raw meat, not washing fruits and vegetables and undercooking minced meats such as beef burgers are common ways of getting food poisoning at this time of year,” said Dr Kelleher.

Fruit

People are advised to always wash their hands before and after handling food, to wash fruit and vegetables thoroughly before eating them and to always ensure minced meats are cooked all the way through.

A study carried out in Ireland in 2013 showed that raw minced beef burgers and minced beef samples from retail and catering premises were contaminated with VTEC which was detected in 2.5 per cent of samples.

Eating minced beef that has not been thoroughly cooked all the way through to kill these bugs can cause food poisoning.

The symptoms of VTEC infection vary but often include bloody diarrhoea and abdominal cramps. Symptoms usually pass within 5-10 days. It is important to visit your doctor if you develop bloody diarrhoea.

However, VTEC infection can also cause a more serious complication called Haemolytic Uraemic Syndrome (HUS) in up to 10 per cent of cases which can lead to kidney failure, and can occasionally be fatal. HUS is more common in children under five and the elderly.