E. coli Bacteria. Image/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health

A 17-year-old girl from Buckinghamshire has been fighting for her life after she caught an E.coli infection back in November. The girl, identified as Antonia Hay, contracted the deadly bacterial infection after eating something at a Christmas market in Great Missenden.

She has been in intensive care for the last two weeks and has had to undergo multiple operations. According to her family, the doctors had to remove part of her bowel due to the severity of the infection.

"She is lucky to be alive and has continued to show amazing determination and strength throughout this time, despite the immense stress, pain, and trauma—all combined with an extreme phobia of injections," her sister Jemima Hay said. However, the family is still not sure what kind of food led to her catching the deadly infection.

As many as 30 cases of E. coli infection have been reported in England and Scotland since July this year, with one fatality. Most of these cases were reported in December, per a report in The Guardian.

E. coli is a type of bacteria found in the gut and is mostly harmless. Still, certain types can cause bloody diarrhoea and abdominal pain, as well as hemolytic uremic syndrome, which is potentially fatal.

Certain strains of E.coli carry genes for a poison known as Shiga toxin, named for Japanese bacteriologist Kiyoshi Shiga.

The UK's worst E.coli outbreak to date, in Lanarkshire in 1996, killed 21 people. The source—a small butcher's shop where there was cross-contamination between raw and ready-to-eat meats—was fairly quickly identified because the cases were localised.

On Christmas Day, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) had to issue a recall notice for four cheese products due to a possible E.coli contamination.

It was issued for Mrs. Kirkham's Mild and Creamy Lancashire, Mrs. Kirkham's Tasty Lancashire, Mrs. Kirkham's Mature Lancashire and Mrs. Kirkham's Smoked Lancashire on Christmas Eve.

"Wash your hands, equipment, utensils, and surfaces that may have come into contact with the product thoroughly," the FSA said in a statement, adding that the products could be returned to the stores they were brought from.

The big picture:

Earlier this year, a team of experts found traces of cocaine, E. coli, and other harmful chemicals in Hampshire waters during a study carried out to check the water quality.

The study was conducted by the Final Straw Foundation in collaboration with researchers from Brunel University and Portsmouth University.

The team studied the water quality in the ports of Langstone and Chichester and was shocked to find traces of drugs, including amphetamines, MDMA, cocaine, antidepressants, and anti-seizure drugs.

They found that E.coli levels were 760 times the acceptable levels established by the UK Environment Agency. The founder and CEO of the Final Straw Foundation, Bianca Carr, said that there have been cases wherein dogs got E.coli poisoning from swimming in the ocean.

According to the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, the symptoms of an E.coli infection begin two to five days after someone ingests contaminated foods.

Hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) can also lead to kidney failure and death. This is a life-threatening condition, and children and elderly people are more likely to develop this complication.

The treatments for HUS include blood transfusions and kidney dialysis. Three to five per cent of people who develop HUS may die from this complication.

How to prevent it?

Meats such as ground beef, pork, sheep meat, or sausage should be cooked properly. Never eat under cooked hamburgers.

Raw milk should be avoided, and raw meat should be kept separate from ready-to-eat foods. One should also avoid swallowing lake or pool water while swimming.

You should also wash your hands thoroughly after handling animals and animal bedding. People infected with the bacteria must wash their hands properly to prevent it from spreading to others.