Escherichia coli or E. coli are common germs (bacteria) normally found in the gut of warm-blooded animals and people. There are many types of E coli, most of which are harmless and are an important part of a healthy human intestinal tract. However, some types can cause serious illness.
One type of disease-causing E. coli is known as Shiga-toxin producing E. coli or STEC. This may also be referred to as Verotoxin E. coli (VTEC).
The types of E. coli that can cause illness can be transmitted through contaminated water or food, or through contact with infected animals or people. It usually takes 2–10 days after the bacteria are ingested for the first symptoms to appear.
In most people, the symptoms are very unpleasant, but do not cause a severe or long lasting illness. People usually recover in a week. A few people who get VTEC (usually children) can develop more serious problems and may need hospitalisation.
If you are concerned about VTEC or STEC, call Healthline on 0800 611 116 or see your doctor or practice nurse.
You can get VTEC or STEC from foods contaminated with the bacteria, such as meat, unpasteurised (raw) milk, water, fruit and vegetables. People or animals infected with VTEC or STEC can pass it on in their faeces into soil, water and food. The bacteria can also contaminate (infect) surfaces such as toys, bathroom taps or doors and nappy change tables. You get infected by swallowing the bacteria.
To help stop VTEC or STEC speeding, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water or use a hand-sanitising gel.
Symptoms of VTEC or STEC include:
Symptoms usually appear 3-4 days (sometimes up to 10 days) after becoming infected.
People usually fully recover from VTEC or STEC in a week.
Some people who are infected with VTEC or STEC do not have any symptoms, but they still pass the bacteria in their faeces.
If you have VTEC or STEC, drink plenty of water while you have diarrhoea or vomiting.
Stay away from school, early childhood centres or work until two days after the symptoms have gone and do not have visitors from outside the family.
VTEC/STEC is a notifiable disease. This means that health professionals or laboratories will inform us when someone has it. ARPHS is responsible for investigating the source of the illness and preventing its spread.
Once we are notified that someone has VTEC/STEC, we talk with them about how they may have got the disease, provide advice on preventing spread of the disease, undertake contact tracing and arrange for clearance faeces specimens.
Last updated 26.11.2020