Guide to E. coli on Holiday

E. coli is one of the most common forms of food poisoning that our clients claim compensation for, and with its prevalence in some of the most popular destinations for British tourists, it's advisable to ensure that you know what this harmful bacteria is, how to avoid it, what to do, and how to make a claim against your tour operator if you contract it.

About E. coli

Escherichia coli, often shortened to E. coli, is a bacterial organism that exists in a variety of different forms, many of which are harmless and can be found in the human gut, but some can cause you a lot of harm and ruin your holiday.

Often an E. coli infection is caused by food poisoning as a result of drinking contaminated water and consuming infected food. The existence of E. coli has been known since 1885 when Theodor Escherich discovered the harmful bacteria in a human colon. Since then, despite continuing research and new discoveries, this strain of bacteria has continued to evolve and ruin many holidaymakers time abroad. E. coli O157, which can also be referred to as VTEC, is a harmful type of the Escherichia coli bacteria, and it produces toxins in the human gut that are similar to those made by other Dysentery causing bacteria.

What are the Symptoms?

E. coli shares symptoms with a number of similar holiday illnesses, meaning that it can be difficult to diagnose without the advice of a medical professional. Many British tourists have experienced the debilitating effects of this bacterium, which can induce the following symptoms:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Severe stomach cramps
  • Diarrhoea
  • Vomiting
  • Bloody stools
  • Fever

Remember that whether you suffer from travellers' diarrhoea as a result of E. coli or a different illness, it is usually vital to keep yourself hydrated. Dehydration can be devastating to your health and lead to further complications, particularly for children, the elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions. Some hydrating salts can help with dehydration, but we recommend receiving medical advice and a proper diagnosis before taking medication to help your condition.

How Long Does an E. coli Infection Last?

Once you have consumed or come into contact with E. coli O157, the incubation period is usually 3 to 4 days, after which you should begin to experience symptoms, however in some instances it can take up to 14 days for symptoms to manifest. It usually takes the body less than a week to fight the infection, but in some cases this can carry on for several weeks.

Long Term Health Problems

While it doesn't usually take long to recover from E. coli O157, there are some instances where the body struggles to recover, which can lead to on-going health complications. A severe infection can cause long-term problems with kidneys and blood pressure, particularly if your condition goes undiagnosed.

The Causes and How to Avoid Infection

Animals and livestock are usually the source of E. coli and act as a carrier of the bacteria, without suffering any of the symptoms themselves. Aside from people spreading the infection through direct or indirect contact, the following are some of the most common sources of bacterial infections at foreign resorts:

  • Dairy Products – Dairy produce can be a common source of E. coli on holiday, making it vital to only consume dairy products that have been produced using pasteurised milk that will have been treated to try to eradicate harmful bacteria.
  • Meat – Meat from livestock can contain harmful strains of E.Coli, which can be passed to you if it hasn't been cooked thoroughly enough to kill the bacteria. It can also be caused by poor food preparation standards wherein uncooked meat is handled next to cooked meat and cross-contamination is allowed.
  • Drinking Water – Many package holiday destinations are in developing countries, some of which do not have the infrastructure in place that we take for granted in the UK. Tap water in some countries is not potable, meaning that it is not safe to drink without first being treated, meaning that it may contain E. coli and other dangerous diseases.
  • Swimming Pools – Swimming pools can provide the ideal environment for E. coli to breed, and without properly treating pool water with disinfectants such as chlorine, infection can spread among guests.

Countries More at Risk

While E. coli can be contracted anywhere in the world, we find that there are some holiday destinations where it is more prevalent. This could be due to preventative health and hygiene procedures not being followed or a lack of infrastructure, with the following locations often experiencing outbreaks:

What Your Resort can do to Prevent Infection

In ideal circumstances every resort should educate food handlers on the importance of hand washing before starting each task, for instance between each stage of preparing, cooking and serving each type of food.

Surfaces that are used to prepare high risk foods should be cleaned with disinfectant frequently, with serving utensils being cleaned or replaced between serving different types of food.

What you can do to Prevent Infection

Aside from addressing the hygiene mistakes at your resort with the staff and your tour operator, you can take steps to prevent yourself and your family from becoming unwell and further spreading infection.

Making sure that you frequently and thoroughly wash your hands while on holiday can reduce the risk of infection. Washing your hands before you eat is advisable as is doing so after using the toilet or handling money. Pay particular attention to underneath your fingernails, as this area is an ideal breeding ground for E. coli O157.

Take special care to avoid stray dogs and cats abroad which can carry E. coli O157, and ensure that children wash their hands thoroughly after stoking animals at zoos and farms.

Advice on Complaining to your Tour Operator

In addition to receiving medical treatment, if you have suffered from E. coli O157 on holiday it's important to receive legal advice from a specialist travel law solicitors before making a formal complaint.

Complaining to your tour operator directly may lead to frustrating delays in receiving your compensation and they might attempt to settle your claim for less than it is worth, even offering vouchers or ex-gratia payments at a fraction of your claims true value. They might even imply that you aren't eligible for compensation, saying that your illness wasn't caused by the food at your hotel and was contracted in some other way, such as an airborne virus.

How to Claim Compensation

If you have become ill and received a medical diagnosis for E. coli or any other form of food poisoning, then our specialist team of solicitors may be able to pursue your claim for compensation. It only takes a phone call and a few minutes to find out if you're eligible to make a claim. Once you have provided us with information about your holiday illness and instructed us to represent you, we will compile your evidence and make sure that your case has a good chance of success.

Strengthen your Claim

There are a few things that you can do to strengthen your claim against your tour operator before receiving legal advice, including the following steps:

  1. While at your resort inform the staff and your holiday representative that you've become ill.
  2. Make a record of when you became ill, what caused your illness, what the conditions at your resort were, and what was done to help you.
  3. Keep all correspondence, note down what was discussed and who you have spoken to about your illness so far.
  4. Hold onto receipts for out-of-pocket expenses for medication, transport, and medical costs as you may be able to recover these as part of your claim.

It's likely that if you have suffered an E. coli infection at a package holiday resort, there will be other people who have become ill. We recommend exchanging names and telephone numbers with anyone else who has suffered the same gastric symptoms, and ensuring that they have reported their illness to the resort and their holiday representative.

By doing so you may be able to make a group claim which can be more successful than an individual claim.

Check for E. coli Outbreaks before you Travel

On our Holiday Hotel Watch website we monitor hotels for reports of poor hygiene practice and outbreaks of food poisoning such as E. coli at many package holiday destinations, so be sure to take a look if you're planning a trip abroad.

Find out More

To find out if you can make a claim all that you need to do is call our specialist travel law team for a no-obligation consultation.

We can pursue your compensation on a 'no win no fee' basis, meaning that we won't take a penny from you unless we're successful.

If you have been affected by an E. coli infection or any other illness on holiday, then can call us today on 0808 145 1353 or complete our enquiry form and we will call you back with free advice on your claim.


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Nick Harris - Head of International Travel Law - Manchester

Nick Harris
Head of Holiday Travel Claims (Consumer)

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