At least 37 people have been admitted to hospital in an E. coli outbreak believed to be linked to food, according to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).

Whole genome sequencing of samples indicates most of the 113 cases reported across the UK between May 25 and June 24 are part of a single outbreak, the UKHSA said.

Owing to the “wide geographic spread of cases”, the agency believes the outbreak – which has mostly affected young adults – is linked to a nationally distributed food item or multiple food items.

The UKHSA said it is working with public health agencies in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and Food Standards Scotland to determine the cause of people’s illness.

E. coli are a diverse group of bacteria that are normally harmless and live in the intestines of humans and animals. (Image: Getty Images)

Health experts at NowPatient have explained what E.coli is, the main symptoms to look out for and how to prevent yourself from contracting the infection.

What is an E.coli infection?

E.coli are a group of bacteria which are found in the lining of the human gut, however, some E.coli bacteria can cause serious illness.

Most people contract an E.coli infection from consuming contaminated food or water and those who have the infection should recover in around 7 days.

What are the symptoms of an E.coli infection?

  • Stomach cramps
  • Diarrhoea (which can contain blood)
  • Fever
  • Nausea

How to reduce the risk of contracting an E.coli infection

  • Regularly wash your hands with warm water and soap
  • Wash all fruit and veg before cooking and make sure they’re cooked correctly
  • If you show any symptoms, avoid coming into contact with other people until 48 hours after your symptoms have passed

Navin Khosla, a pharmacist at NowPatient, explained: “The UK Health Security Agency is advising Brits to be vigilant after an E.coli outbreak was reported, which is believed to have been caused by a nationally distributed food item.

“Although a number of the 113 people who have contracted the infection have been admitted to hospital, in most cases, people will recover in around 7 days if they follow the correct guidance in terms of treatment.

“E.coli is found in the lining of the gut in almost all humans and animals, however, some E.coli bacteria which can be found in contaminated water and food can pose a serious risk to human health, so it’s important to be aware of the main symptoms associated with an E.coli infection. Stomach cramps, diarrhoea which contains blood and an occasional fever could indicate you have an infection.

“If you experience any of these symptoms, make sure you drink plenty of fluids, to help flush the infection out and if your symptoms persist, you may need a course of antibiotics which your GP can prescribe you.

“In order to avoid catching an E.coli infection, it’s crucial to wash your hands regularly with warm water and soap, as well as make sure all fresh fruit and vegetables are washed before you cook with them.

“If you think you may have an E.coli infection, try and avoid contact with anyone else until 48 hours after your symptoms have stopped.”