E. coli is a rather common bacterium that helps people to stay healthy. But strain O157, which is found in the intestines of people and cattle, can be potentially fatal.
This potentially lethal strain first appeared in Britain in the 1980s and is technically known as Verocytotoxin-producing E.coli, or VTEC. Cases of E.coli O157 have tripled in the UK since 1991 and about 15% of cattle are thought to be carriers.
E.coli symptoms can range from mild diarrhoea to abdominal cramps and blood in the stools. Some patients also suffer from a complication, hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which kills red blood cells and can cause kidney failure.
Symptoms may appear within hours or days, depending on a series of factors, including the number of organisms ingested, the person’s state of health and their natural resistance to the bug.
Experts warn sufferers not to take anti-diarrhoeal medication and instead to drink plenty of water. Most people shake off the bug within a week after being prescribed antibiotics.