iRELAND currently has the highest known rate of a potentially deadly bug that is particularly affecting child creches and farms.
The incidences of verotoxigenic E. coli infection – or VTEC for short – have dramatically increased in recent years and left one elderly person on permanent kidney dialysis in 2012.
And a probable case of the infection recently led to the temporary closure of a creche in Cork.
There were 199 cases reported in 2010, but the number climbed to 284 cases in 2011 and soared to 562 cases in 2012.
Last year, 34 of those infected developed haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS), a serious complication that can affect the kidneys and, in some cases, the nervous system.
All of them were admitted to hospital and 16 of those were younger than five years, while five were over 65.
Although most E. coli bacteria are harmless, this form has been known to cause death in some cases and more vigilance and prevention measures are clearly needed.
It can be picked up from contaminated private water supplies and contact with farm animals.
It can live in the intestines of healthy cattle and sheep and can be shed in their faeces.
It is also passed on from person-to-person and because young children's immune systems are still developing, they are at particular risk.
The symptoms include bloody diarrhoea and severe stomach cramps.
Usually there is little or no fever, and patients recover within five to 10 days.
Campers and hill walkers have also been known to pick it up because of contact with contaminated grass or soil.
And children visiting open farms also need to be protected.
Domestic water from wells can become polluted without any noticeable change in taste.
After heavy rainfall it is advisable to boil the water before drinking it.
The basic precautions are:
• Wash your hands thoroughly after contact with farm animals and animal faeces.
• Make sure that anyone with diarrhoea, especially children, washes their hands carefully with soap and warm water after bowel movements.
• Wash hands after changing soiled nappies.
• Cook all minced beef and hamburgers thoroughly until the juices run clear.
• Keep raw meat separate from ready-to-eat foods.
• Wash hands, counters, and utensils with hot soapy water after they touch raw meat.
• Only drink water that was treated with chlorine or other disinfectants.
• Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly, especially those that will not be cooked.
• Use organic fertilisers safely.
• Keep animals clean.
• Do not send children who are suffering from diarrhoea or vomiting to their creche or childminder until the symptoms have gone for 48 hours.