What is VTEC/STEC?

VTEC and STEC are types of E. coli bacteria that produce vero-toxin and shiga-toxin. 

Normal E. coli bacteria live in the intestines of healthy people and animals, usually without causing illness. However there are some strains that can cause serious illness (occasionally fatal) by producing powerful toxins. The illness is sometimes called VTEC or STEC. 


What are the symptoms?

Diarrhoea (often bloody), and fever or chills. Young children, the elderly and people with weakend immune systems are at greater risk of developing severe complications. Some people become infected but don't show any sign of illness. 


How are people infected?

People are infected by consuming the bacteria. Common methods include:

  • Contact with some farm animals or their faeces, mainly calves and cows
  • Consuming unpasteurised/raw milk and dairy products
  • Drinking contaminated water e.g. stream or roof water
  • Eating contaminated food, particularly uncooked minced beef
  • Infection can be spread from person to person – so wash and dry hands thoroughly after going to the toilet.


How is it treated?

Diarrhoea usually settles down without specific treatment but complications may need appropriate treatment. Antibiotics are not recommended.


How do I protect myself and others?

  • Avoid contact with infants, very elderly or ill people while you have diarrhoea.

Look after food carefully:

  • Thaw frozen meat completely
  • Cook meat and poultry thoroughly
  • Keep raw meat and poultry separate from other foods in the refrigerator
  • Store raw foods underneath cooked foods to prevent contamination
  • Clean knives, cutting boards and other surfaces after contact with raw meat and poultry
  • Don't handle food if you have diarrhoea - you could spread the illness


  • Wash your hands:
    • After going to the toilet or changing nappies
    • After playing or working with animals
    • Before handling food
    • After touching raw meat or chicken


Do I need to take time off work, school or preschool?

Because of the potentially serious nature of this illness some people will need to prove they are free from infection before they can work or attend school or preschool.

  • Stay away from work, school or preschool until you have been free from all symptoms for 48 hours.


For more information about this illness contact a Health Protection Officer on 0800 221 555.