E. coli

E. coli (Escherichia coli) is a group of bacteria (germs). E. coli normally live in the gut of healthy people and animals. Most types of E. coli are harmless. But some can cause diarrhoea (gastroenteritis).

How E. coli spreads

E. coli is spread by:

  • eating contaminated food, including undercooked meats and raw milk
  • contaminated water
  • contact with people who are sick with E. coli
  • contact with farm animals, animal poo, and soil.

E. coli travels easily and fast from person to person if infected people do not wash their hands properly.

The best ways to avoid getting E. coli are to practise good hand hygiene and follow food safety advice.

Symptoms of E. coli

The symptoms of E. coli are generally mild. But they can be more serious in young tamariki (children), older people and people with poor immune systems.

Symptoms include:

  • severe stomach cramps
  • diarrhoea that can be bloody
  • feeling sick and throwing up (in some people).

Most people get better within 5 to 7 days.

Diagnosing E. coli

E. coli is diagnosed from a poo (faeces) sample.

If the tests find the E. Coli infection, your healthcare provider will report this to the local public health team. They may contact you for more information. This is to help stop the infection spreading further.

Treating E. coli

There is no specific treatment for E. coli. The treatment is aimed at relieving symptoms. You should rest and drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. See the self care section on the gastroenteritis page for more details.

Gastroenteritis (internal link)

Getting help with E. coli

You should see your healthcare provider if you have bloody diarrhoea or a fever or if your symptoms have not gone away after 7 days.

You should also see your healthcare provider if you are very unwell or have a weakened immune system.

You should take your tamaiti (child) to your healthcare provider if:

  • they are not drinking
  • they are passing less wee (urine) than usual
  • they have a dry mouth or sunken eyes
  • they seem drowsy.

Avoiding spreading E. coli

You can be infectious for 1 to 3 weeks after your diarrhoea starts, although the risk of spreading the infection is reduced once your diarrhoea has stopped. To reduce the risk of spreading the infection, it is important to have good hand hygiene. This includes washing your hands with soap and water.

Try to avoid preparing food if you have E. coli. If you do prepare food, make sure you wash and dry your hands well first. Wash all utensils and surfaces well if they have been exposed to fresh food or raw meat. 

Stay away from work, community gatherings and school or preschool until you or your tamaiti (child) have been free of symptoms for 24 to 48 hours. This includes the last time you had diarrhoea.

You should wait for at least 2 weeks after the last episode of diarrhoea before you go swimming in a pool.

Clinical review

This content was written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. It has been adapted for Health Information and Services.

Clinical advisers — HealthInfo (external link)