VTEC is the abbreviation used for Vero cytotoxin producing Escherichia coli of which O157 is the most common in the UK.
People infected with VTEC can have a combination of the following symptoms:
Some people may have mild diarrhoea, or even no symptoms at all (termed asymptomatic carriage).
Symptoms can last up to 2 weeks in cases without complications.
A small proportion of patients, mainly children, may develop haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS) which is a serious life-threatening condition resulting in kidney failure. A small proportion of adults may develop a similar condition called thrombotic thrombocytopaenic purpura (TTP).
Cattle are the most important reservoir of VTEC O157 in the UK although VTEC have also been found in the faeces of a range of animals, including deer, rabbits, horses, pigs and wild birds.
People can become infected by:
VTEC are very infectious because very few bacteria are needed to cause illness. This means that disease can spread easily within families and in other settings such as day nurseries, primary schools, nursing homes and hospitals where there are young children and others who might have difficulty in keeping clean.
Infected food handlers pose a risk of contaminating food products and must be excluded from work to avoid spreading infection.
Very few bacteria (possibly fewer than 100 individual cells) can cause disease and it is important to observe good hygiene practices relating to food and drink, and animals and their environment.
On farm visits:
* Do not use gels or wipes instead of washing hands with soap and water. Gels and wipes do not remove E. coli O157. Supervise children closely to ensure that they wash their hands thoroughly.
Further advice on farm visits:Avoiding infection on farm visits (PDF, 1 MB)
If someone in the family has VTEC infection, wash all dirty clothes, bedding and towels in the washing machine on the hottest wash cycle possible. Clean toilet seats, toilet bowls, flush handles, taps, hand basins and any other areas that might have been soiled with detergent and hot water, rinsing with household disinfectant.
There is no specific treatment for VTEC infection.
The illness is usually self-limiting, and will clear itself within a week. It is important to drink plenty of fluids as diarrhoea can lead to dehydration.
Antibiotics are not recommended, and are likely to increase the risk of getting complications such as HUS.
You may be excluded from work/school or other institutional settings until 48hrs after you have stopped vomiting or having diarrhoea unless you belong to one of the following groups of people who should be screened for VTEC in their stools to confirm negativity prior to returning to work/school:
The Health Protection Agency undertakes epidemiological investigations and provides advice for the control of VTEC outbreaks. Laboratory methods are used to type strains so that strains from cases can be compared with those isolated from suspect foods and other specimens collected during outbreak investigations.
We also look for any possible connections between the people who are infected. When a case is found, health protection specialists in Health Protection Units across the country work with environmental health officers to identify how people became ill, and thus prevent other people from becoming infected. Where outbreaks are linked to contact with animals or their environment, we work closely with the Veterinary Laboratories Agency (VLA) to investigate the source.