Was your Holiday Ruined by E. coli?
Did E. coli food poisoning make your holiday a nightmare? Escherichia coli (also known as E. coli, E-coli and Ecoli) is one of the most common causes of traveller’s diarrhoea, and in this guide we’re going to explain what E. coli is, what you can do to keep your family safe abroad, and what to do if you become ill.
Misconceptions about E. coli
E. coli is not always harmful; in fact many of us have harmless strains of the bacteria living within our digestive system, and some types are considered to be beneficial to our health. When people refer to an “E. coli outbreak”, they’re often referring to a harmful type of the bacteria called E. coli O157 or VTEC. This strain can produce a deadly toxin in your gut that can poison your kidneys and cause them to fail.
While there’s no particular country that can be called home to E. coli O157, we receive many reports of food poisoning from tourists returning from package holidays in destinations such as Egypt, Turkey and the Dominican Republic.
What causes it?
E. coli is a bacterium, meaning that it requires specific conditions to be able to thrive. It generally lives in the digestive system of both humans and animals, meaning that anything that becomes contaminated with animal faeces or human sewage is at risk. We generally find that consumption of the following is the most common cause of infection on holiday:
What are the Symptoms?
There are symptoms which can be indicative of an E. coli O157 infection, but it’s important not to self-diagnose and receive a proper diagnosis from a medical practitioner, rather than treating yourself. Symptoms of an E. coli infection can include the following:
How long does E. coli last for?
The incubation time of a harmful strand of E. coli changes depend on circumstances, but generally it takes 3 to 4 days to incubate, taking up to 14 days in some instance. This can mean that you’ll have returned home before your symptoms manifest. Symptoms usually last for less than a week, but some people may find that their condition doesn’t improve for several weeks.
What are the dangers to my health?
The biggest concern to your health that E. coli O157 presents is usually dehydration. It’s important to up your fluid intake if you experience travellers’ diarrhoea, only consuming clean water, ideally from sealed bottles.
Children, the elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions are most at risk, but if you become ill on holiday with a disease of this nature, you should seek medical advice, regardless of your health before becoming unwell. A severe E. coli infection that isn’t diagnosed and treated can lead to long-term problems with kidneys and blood pressure, as well as other further health complications.
What can I do to Prevent Infection?
You can greatly reduce the risk of an E. coli infection by making sure that you frequently wash your hands on holiday, particularly before handling food and after visiting the toilet or handling money. It’s best to try to avoid contact with animals such as stray dogs, cats and farm animals, as they can carry harmful strains of the bacteria without presenting any symptoms.
Ideally the staff handling food at your resort will be educated on the importance of hand washing before, during and after food preparation, and will ensure that there is a clear separation of surfaces, utensils and persons handling raw and cooked food, as well as thoroughly cooking high risk foods to kill harmful bacteria. This attention to hygiene should extend to the dining area which should be kept clean and free of insects and wildlife.
If you notice that any of these steps aren’t being adhered to in any of the restaurants at your resort, we recommend reporting the issue to a manager and informing your holiday representative.
What to do if you become ill with E. coli on Holiday
If you believe that you’ve contracted E. coli O157, it’s important to advise the staff at your hotel and your tour operator representative, so that the issue can be addressed. Keep track of your condition and what you believe caused it, as this will help in diagnosing your condition and can be used as part of your claim against your tour operator.