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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

E. coli

E. coli (Escherichia coli) is a group of bacteria (germs). E. coli normally live in the gut of healthy people and animals. Most types of E. coli are harmless. But some can cause diarrhoea and an infection called gastroenteritis.

E. coli is spread by contact with contaminated food, particularly raw vegetables, yoghurt and cheese. Also, meats such as undercooked minced beef, sausages and salami.

E. coli travels easily and fast from person to person if infected people do not wash their hands properly.

Symptoms include severe stomach cramps and diarrhoea that can be bloody. Some people feel sick and vomit. Most people get better within five to seven days.

The symptoms are generally mild. But they can be more serious in young children, older people and people with poor immune systems.

Avoiding E. coli

The best ways to avoid getting E. coli are to practise good hand hygiene and follow food safety advice.

Diagnosing E. coli

E coli is diagnosed from a poo (faeces) sample.

If the tests find the E Coli infection, your GP will report this to the local public health team. They may contact you for more information. This is to help stop the infection spreading further.

Treating E. coli

There is no specific treatment for E. coli. The treatment is aimed at relieving symptoms. You should rest and drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. See the self-care section on the gastroenteritis page for more details.

Getting help with E. coli

You should see your GP if you have bloody diarrhoea or a fever or if your symptoms have not gone away after seven days. You should also see your GP if you're very unwell or have a weakened immune system.

You should take your child to your GP if they aren't drinking, if they're passing less urine than usual, have a dry mouth or sunken eyes or if they seem drowsy.

Avoiding spreading E. coli

You can be infectious for one to three weeks after your diarrhoea starts, although the risk of spreading the infection is reduced once your diarrhoea has stopped. To reduce the risk of spreading the infection, it's important to have good hand hygiene. This includes washing your hands with soap and water.

Try to avoid preparing food if you have E. coli. If you do prepare food, make sure you wash and dry your hands well first. Wash all utensils and surfaces well if they have been exposed to fresh food or raw meat. Follow this food safety advice.

Stay away from work, community gatherings and school or preschool until you or your child have been free of symptoms for 24 to 48 hours. This includes the last time you had diarrhoea.

You should wait for at least two weeks after the last episode of diarrhoea before you go swimming in a pool.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed May 2022.


See also:

Diarrhoea & vomiting in adults (gastroenteritis)

Diarrhoea & vomiting in children (gastroenteritis)

Eating and drinking when you're unwell

Page reference: 49719

Review key: HIGTE-81185