Healthcare: On the Agenda - E.coli outbreak threatens the UK

In a nutshell

An outbreak of E.coli in Germany has spread into the UK. On 6 June, the total number of cases in the UK was 11. The total number of people infected by the deadly strain of E.coli stood at 520 in Germany, with 11 reported deaths. Early suggestions pointed to infected Spanish cucumbers as the source of the outbreak, but it later transpired German beansprouts may be to blame.

What is E. coli?

Escherichia coli (E.coli) is a bacteria that can be found in the intestines of many animals. Usually, those infected suffer from diarrhoea symptoms which can be brought under control within several days. Some strains, such as haemolytic-uraemic syndrome (HUS) found in the German outbreak, can cause serious kidney and blood problems.

PR strategy

The UK Health Protection Agency (HPA) became aware of the outbreak in Germany and posted the first of a series of health advice updates on 27 May. The HPA in-house press team continued to work with the Food Standards Agency to alert both the media and the public to the growing health threat, offering advice to those who had recently travelled to or from Germany and reassuring the public that there was no evidence of infected food in the UK (correct as of 2 June).

Media coverage

News of the outbreak featured widely in the national media. The HCA carried out a number of interviews with its spokespeople for broadcast media, including BBC News 24, Sky, ITN and Radio 5 Live.

- 10% of reported UK E.coli cases involved HUS*

- 470 Cases of HUS in Germany*.

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