Public Health Scotland (PHS) is working with NHS Boards in Scotland, UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) and other public health agencies across the UK to investigate an increase in the number of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) cases across the UK in recent weeks.

There have been 113 confirmed cases in the Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) O145 outbreak since May 25. Whole genome sequencing of samples in the current investigation indicates that most cases are part of a single outbreak.

Based on the wide geographic spread of cases, it is most likely that this outbreak is linked to a nationally distributed food item or multiple food items. The public health agencies are working with the Food Standards Agency and Food Standards Scotland to investigate further.

As of 4 June, there have been 113 confirmed cases associated with this outbreak of STEC O145 in the UK, all reported since 25 May 2024:

  • 81 in England
  • 18 in Wales
  • 13 in Scotland
  • 1 in Northern Ireland (for this case, evidence suggests that they acquired their infection while visiting England)

Typically, the UK sees around 1,500 cases of STEC over a full year. Numbers of confirmed cases associated with this outbreak are expected to rise as further samples undergo whole genome sequencing.

Cases range in age from 2 to 79 years old, with the majority being young adults. Of the 81 cases in England, 61 have provided information to UKHSA on food, travel, and potential exposures, and 37 people have been hospitalised.

While the source of this outbreak is currently unknown, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of gastrointestinal infections, as well as limiting the spread to others:

  • regularly wash your hands with warm water and soap — alcohol gels do not kill all bugs that cause diarrhoeal illness
  • follow food hygiene measures such as washing fruit and vegetables and cooking food properly
  • if you have diarrhoea and vomiting, you should not prepare food for others and avoid visiting people in hospitals or care homes to avoid passing on the infection
  • you should not return to work, school or nursery until 48 hours after your symptoms have stopped

Jim McMenamin, Head of Health Protection (infection Services), Public Health Scotland, said:

To help stop infections like E. coli from spreading, we advise regular hand washing using soap and water, particularly after using the toilet and before preparing food. People should also use disinfectants to clean surfaces that may be contaminated. Anyone experiencing severe and sometimes bloody diarrhoea, stomach cramps, vomiting and fever should call their GP or 111 to seek advice. Anyone with diarrhoea or vomiting should avoid attending places such as schools, workplaces or social gatherings until at least 48 hours after their symptoms have ceased.