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11 December 2014, 07:24
Public Health England (PHE) says the number of cases of the E. coli bacteria in Dorset has reached 18.
That's up from 11 last month. At least seven people diagnosed since July have developed serious kidney problems - including a 3-year-old boy from Bournemouth and his aunt.
Some cases are connected to a children's nursery in Blandford, while three are in Bournemouth and one in Poole.
The cluster of illnesses is caused by a rare strain of the bacteria called Verocytotoxin-producing Escherichia coli 055 (VTEC 055). The infection can cause bloody diarrhoea and kidney problems - called haemolytic uraemic syndrome. There have been no deaths.
The cause of the outbreak still isn't known and an investigation is ongoing.
A Public Health England (PHE) spokesperson said:
"We and local authorities routinely investigate all cases of E. coli infection, aiming to identify the source and take any necessary actions to protect the public's health.
"This is a rare strain of the infection and all those affected and their close contacts are being followed up and further investigations are taking place to determine the likely source.
"As some cases have occurred in people associated with a children's nursery, letters have been sent to parents whose children attend the nursery and staff, informing them about E. Coli O55 and the ongoing investigation.
"As part of routine screening, stool samples are being taken from children and staff as a precautionary measure.
"Letters have also been sent to hospital doctors and local GPs, alerting them to the possibility of infection and asking they report any further cases of bloody diarrhoea.
Noëleen McFarland, Consultant in Health Protection at PHE Wessex, said:
"We are working closely with colleagues in the North Dorset Environmental Health Department to identify possible sources of infection. It is an infection that can be passed easily from person to person and young children are particularly easily affected.
"Any infection with E. coli can be very serious. We have interviewed all of those affected or their parents and their close contacts to look for possible causes in the days before they became ill. This information is being used in the ongoing investigation into these cases.
"We want to stress the importance of good hand hygiene. Wash hands thoroughly using soap and water after using the toilet, before and after handling food and after contact with animals including farm animals. Small children should be supervised in washing their hands. Remove any loose soil before storing vegetables and thoroughly wash all vegetables and fruit that will be eaten raw."