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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
If your break abroad was booked as a package holiday that included your flights, meals and stay at a resort or hotel for a single price, you will be covered under The Package Travel Regulations 1992. This allows you to make a claim against your tour operator in the event that any element of your holiday was not as described or caused you to come to harm. If you decide to make a claim following an E. coli infection, making clear notes about the following will help your claim:
Once you have compiled this information we recommend receiving legal advice before making a formal complaint to your tour operator, as they can advise travellers that they are suffering an airborne virus or over indulgence to avoid paying out compensation. Instead seek out legal advice from a solicitor that specialises in travel law and can advise you of the value of your claim, and fight on your behalf to win your compensation.
We process many claims for British tourists who have become ill on holiday with E. coli O157 and other harmful infections at resorts around the world. Our team of Travel Law Specialists have experience of working within the travel sector and know the tactics that tour operators will use to avoid paying compensation.
We can provide you with a free no-obligation consultation, and if you instruct us to pursue your claim we can provide no win no fee' terms, meaning that you won't pay us unless we win your compensation award. We take the stress out of making a claim by doing the hard work for you, so avoid the frustration of handling a claim yourself and let the experts help.
Below is an example of a recent claim that we processed for a client who suffered from E. coli in the Dominican Republic:
"Mrs Duffy booked her honeymoon to the Dominican Republic with First Choice Holidays, and shortly after arrival began to suffer from stomach cramps and watery stools every thirty minutes. Medication that she obtained locally resulted in vomiting, with further complications arising from being placed on an intravenous drip.
The most likely source of infection was contaminated drinks, either due to the ice in the drinks or the glasses the drinks were served being unclean. Her symptoms of diarrhoea and stomach cramps continued for 48 hours before subsiding, and it took her 4 weeks to fully recover. After we handled her claim against First Choice Holidays she was awarded £1,500 compensation."
If you have suffered an E. coli O157 infection through food poisoning or any other illness while on holiday, then you may be able to make a claim. Why not speak to us - you've really nothing to lose.