ONE person has died and six hospitalised as a mysterious E. coli outbreak sweeps across the UK.

The very rare strain of the diarrhoea-causing bug appears to be predominantly affecting children.

UK health officials are racing to find the source of the outbreak, which is believed to have begun in May 2023.

Patients reported eating grated hard cheese before being falling ill, reports suggest.

Others mentioned having strawberries, cucumbers, peppers and watermelon.

E. coli is a common food poisoning bug, often caught from contaminated water or food.

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Most strains are harmless and cause unpleasant symptoms like vomiting, diarrhoea and tummy pain, that only lasts a few days.

But in people with weaker immune systems, like the young, elderly and those with underlying medical conditions, the bug is potentially fatal.

It comes as a family adventure park, Hobbledown, in Surrey was forced to close after a separate E. coli outbreak caused by a different form of the bug left four children ill.

Britain's ongoing outbreak is caused by shiga toxin-producing E coli O183 (STEC).

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It's a very rare strain of E. coli, which leaves sufferers with bloody diarrhoea.

In the UK, only 15 cases have been reported since 2015.

Like other versions of the bug, it can be harmless, but in some cases can lead to a serious, life-threatening disease called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) which causes a person's kidneys to fail.

So far there have been 25 cases of the bug, of which 19 were in England, according to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).

One person has died and six hospitalised.

Although the health body did not reveal the ages of the patients, it said the "majority of cases seen in children".

It is now working with the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to investigate the source of the outbreak.

Amy Douglas, UKHSA's incident director, said: "The outbreak’s source has not yet been identified. But we are working with partners to investigate.

"Washing hands thoroughly with soap and water and ensuring to help young children with hand washing is the best way to stop the bug spreading. 

"Children under five shouldn't attend school/nursery/group childcare until they have been free of sickness or diarrhoea for two days. 

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"Visits to hospitals or care home settings should be avoided if you are feeling unwell."

Rajwinder Ubhi, of the FSA, said: "Whilst multi-agency investigations continue, it’s important to follow our usual food hygiene advice to limit the spread of STEC, to help avoid cross-contamination and risk of illness including thoroughly cooking meat and meat products like burgers and sausages, and washing fruit and vegetables before eating them.”

What are the symptoms of STEC and how is it transmitted?

Shiga toxin E. coli causes gastrointestinal illness in humans.

Symptoms vary from mild to bloody diarrhoea, the UK Health Security Agency says.

Vomiting, fever and stomach cramps are other tell-tale signs.

Most of those affected by the bug will get better without treatment within a week.

Sufferers are advised to drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated. 

How is it passed on?

It is spread by eating contaminated foods, such as raw leafy vegetables or undercooked meats.

The highly contagious bug can also be spread by touching infected animals and coming into contact with other people who are sick and items them have touched.

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