Orkney Islands Council
Working together for a better Orkney

E.coli – know the risks and stay safe

Two outbreaks in Orkney in 2012 involved 10 confirmed of cases of infection involving the E. coli O157 bacteria. Extensive investigations were carried out but no common cause was found.

NHS Orkney and Orkney Islands Council are working together to raise awareness of the impact E. coli O157 can have.

We are grateful to BBC Radio Orkney for running a series of features about E. coli O157, highlighting simple measures we can all take to reduce the risk of infection. You can find information about each feature and links to the BBC Radio Orkney Soundcloud web page further down this page.

About E.coli

  • E. coli O157 can cause severe illness, especially in vulnerable groups like the elderly and children under 16.
  • In a rural community like Orkney E. coli O157 will always be present in the environment around us.
  • By following some simple steps we can keep E. coli at bay. It’s in all of our hands to protect ourselves and our families – quite literally.

There are three key things we can do to avoid potential infection:

Image listing effective cleaning,  good hand hygiene and preparing and cooking food safely.


Frequently asked questions

What is E.coli O157?

How does infection occur?

How do I stop it spreading?

How important is hand washing?

Where can I get more advice?

How do I provide a faecal of stool sample?

What is E. coli O157?

Escherichia coli (E. coli 0157) is a relatively rare infection causing of illness ranging from mild diarrhoea to severe diarrhoea mixed with blood and associated with stomach cramps and pains. A small number of people develop more serious complications, such as kidney damage and problems with blood clotting, requiring urgent hospital treatment. Infection is more common in the summer and early autumn months.

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How does infection occur?

E. coli bacteria are commonly found in the gut of animals and humans. E.coli are usually quite harmless, but some strains such as E. coli O157 can produce powerful toxins that cause illness. Only a very small number of the bacteria need to be swallowed by a vulnerable person in order to cause infection.

E. coli O157 is commonly carried in the gut of a variety of domestic, farm and wild animals and can be found in their faeces. It can be spread by swallowing the bacteria during or after direct contact with infected animal faeces, or by indirect contact – for example with soiled work clothes, or during picnics or barbeques in the countryside, in gardens or on the beach. It can also be spread following the consumption of contaminated water.

E. coli O157 infection can also be linked to eating contaminated meat or dairy products. The infection can then be spread from person to person following contact with contaminated handles, food preparation surfaces and even shared towels.

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How do I stop it spreading?

As E.c oli O157 can spread very easily from person to person and as just a few germs can cause infection, good hygiene is essential.

People with E. coli O157 infection should not prepare food for other people.

After using the toilet, wash hands, rinse under warm running water and dry them thoroughly.

If you have the infection, use a separate towel, or kitchen roll, from the rest of the household.

Keep the bathroom and toilet clean, paying particular attention to cleaning the toilet seat, flush handles, door handles, washbasins and taps.

The flush and door handle should be disinfected each time the toilet is used.

Young children with E. coli O157 need to be carefully supervised when using the toilet. Nappies must be wrapped in plastic bag prior to disposal.

You should inform your place of work or in the case of children, their child minder, nursery, play group or school.

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How important is hand washing?

Effective and frequent hand washing is one of the single most important things we can do to help to reduce the spread of infections and prevent ill health. For example, good hand hygiene in children will help to prevent the spread of common communicable infections such as colds and tummy bugs.

A short film is available, produced with children in mind, that shows how it’s done and is available on the Health Protection Scotland website by following the link in the 'Related Sites' section of this page.

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Where can I get more advice?

Your GP will be able to advise you and your family. You may be asked by your doctor to provide a faecal (stool) sample.

Advice can be provided by the Environmental Health Team at Orkney Islands Council.

As a new service, we can provide home advisory visits. These provide an opportunity to talk over any questions you might have about effective cleaning, good hand hygiene, and preparing and cooking food safely – all the things you need to do to keep you and your family safe and well.

For further information and to arrange a visit, phone the Environmental Health Team on 01856 873535.

A wealth of information is also provided on the Health Protection Scotland website available from the 'Related Sites' section of this page.

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How do I provide a faecal of stool sample?

Check that your name and the date of birth is on the specimen pot provided by your GP or health centre. If missing add those details to the label on the tube and then write the date of your sample.

Collect the stool specimen in a container (such as an old margarine or ice-cream tub) which has been well washed. Alternatively, you may have a child’s potty.

When you have the stool specimen, use the scoop inside the tube:

  • Do not remove the scoop from the lid.
  • Do not fill the tube, one third is enough.
  • Do not put toilet paper in the tube.
  • Do not let the stool specimen come into contact with disinfectant.
  • Screw the top on the tube firmly and wipe the outside with toilet paper, if necessary. Put the tube into the plastic bag provided. Store the stool specimen in a cool place (not the fridge) away from children and pets.

When you have finished with the collection container (not the specimen tube):

  • Empty remaining contents into the toilet.
  • Wipe the container with toilet paper.
  • Wrap the container in newspaper or plastic bag.
  • Place into your outside rubbish bin.
  • Wash any surfaces as necessary, then wash your hands well.

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BBC Radio Orkney Soundcloud - E.coli Audio Features

You can listen to each feature on BBC Radio Orkney's Soundcloud page by using the links in the 'Related Sites' section of this page.

Feature 1

In the first of Radio Orkney's features on E. coli, we hear from a family whose world was turned upside down last year when their daughter contracted the infection.  The three-year-old from Westray was rushed to hospital in Aberdeen after experiencing continual vomiting and stomach cramps. She was diagnosed with E.coli and kept in hospital for two weeks.  Reporter Rachel Massie talked to the little girl's parents, Stuart and Donna Rendall.

Feature 2

In the second feature, Radio Orkney is focussing on a condition which can devastate a community. Last year there were two outbreaks on E. coli O157 in Orkney which left children in hospital gravely ill and parents in deep distress. Despite weeks of investigation by NHS Orkney and Orkney Islands Council, no cause was ever found. But they are keen to warn people of the dangers - especially as the better weather draws them out into the countryside. Reporter Robbie Fraser has been finding out what happens when an outbreak occurs.

Feature 3

In their third feature on E. coli O157 and the danger it posesd in a rural community, Radio Orkney spoke to two people whose jobs can bring them into contact with the bug. Reporter Robbie Fraser went to Harray to meet farmer Steven Sandison and vet Andy Cant - and to ask them about their work environment and the precautions they take to keep themselves and their families safe and well.

Feature 4

In this audio feature, Radio Orkney went to see how pupils in the West Mainland are being taught about the dangers of poor hygiene. Through the features so far, the message has been coming through loud and clear that good hand washing is a vital weapon in preventing illness caused by bugs such as E. coli O157. NHS Orkney visits local schools to talk to children about when and how to wash their hands properly. Reporter Robbie Fraser joined a session with the nursery class at Dounby Primary School. The head teacher, Alastair Forsyth, had brought his dog along for demonstration purposes.

Feature 5

Radio Orkney are on home ground for their final look at the dangers of the E. coli O157 bug. Like many other workplaces, the station has a kitchen which is shared by all the team. It certainly looks pristine - it is cleaned regularly and it's nice and shiny. But how safe is it? Radio Orkney asked Pat Pearson from the Council's Environmental Health Team to come down for a look.

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