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Campsites, livestock and E.coli O157

Guidance to stop the spread of E.coli O157 and viral gastro-enteritis infection at Scout camp and during outdoor activities

FS120626 (Published April 2022, replacing May 2020)

What is E-coli?

E-coli 0157 can be ingested through the nose and mouth and cause intestinal infections. It is found in the gut and faeces of many animals, particularly cattle and is a bacterial infection that can cause stomach cramps, diarrhoea a fever. Symptoms can last up to two weeks.

Gastro-enteritis is a common condition that causes diarrhoea and vomiting usually caused by a bacterial or viral tummy bug. It can spread to others very easily and be very unpleasant, but it usually clears up by itself within a week.

Some activities that can risk contact with E-coli 0157 or a gastro-enteritis

  • Camps or picnics where there has been cattle grazing.
  • Mountain biking across farmland / road cycling near to farms. Mud in wet conditions can flick up from the tyres of the mountain bike / road cycle into the eyes and the mouth of the rider.
  • Adventure racing / obstacle courses across farmland when running through wet and muddy areas and also submersion into water as part of an obstacle.
  • Scout Fete or fair held in a field previously used by cattle.

Background information

  • The farmer or landowner will not be aware of animals excreting E-coli O157 because the animals show no symptoms and there is no way of knowing when animals are infected.
  • The animals do not become ill but can spread the organism to people by direct contact and indirectly via droppings and manure spread on land.
  • Animal droppings on pasture are the greatest problem, especially where there are concentrations of animals in a given area, and in wet conditions. You will find it almost impossible to avoid getting animal droppings on your boots or shoes in these circumstances. Such footwear can spread droppings into buildings, tents, and vehicles. On land affected in this way, fences, gates, stiles, seating and play areas can also become contaminated with animal droppings. The danger is that these droppings may contain E-coli O157.
  • To be a risk, the E-coli O157 has to be swallowed from contact with hands, contaminated food or contaminated water. Even tiny amounts of E-coli O157 can be a severe risk.
  • When conditions are wet, contamination can spread more easily onto hands, footwear, tents etc., with the increased possibility that the organism can pass into the mouth or contaminate food and water.
  • Normally such contact with E-coli O157 will be unlikely for most of the population, even those walking and cycling in the country. Those camping, picnicking and playing on farm land used for grazing animals are most at risk. In dry conditions, the risk should be less.
  • Surface water run-off from fields containing animal dropping can lead to contamination of streams, burns, etc., particularly during wet conditions.
  • You may well be able to see the droppings however you will not see the contamination that they cause.
  • The organism is known to survive in soil and animal droppings for weeks, but the levels of contamination generally decline over time.

Tips for avoiding E-coli

Ideally, to completely avoid risk of infection by E-coli O157 from this source, fields used for grazing or stockholding of animals should not be used for camping, activities, picnicking and play areas.

However, as with everyday life, these risks can be greatly reduced by adopting the following sensible precautions:

  • Always wash hands before eating, drinking and after activities i.e., use soap, clean towels and preferably hot and running water.
  • Make sure you explain this clearly to all participants and increase the amount of hand washing if necessary.
  • Keep farm animals off the fields to be used for the preceding three weeks.
  • Keep farm animals off fields during use.
  • Remove all visible droppings, ideally at the beginning of the three-week period.
  • Mow the grass, keep it short and remove the clippings before the fields are used for recreation.
  • Ensure that water from burns and streams is treated before drinking. Preferably ensure you have an alternative source of fresh drinking water.
  • Remove outdoor footwear when entering a sleeping area in a tent.
  • Keep all pans and cooking utensils clean and away from the floor.
  • Try to avoid ingesting any mud or surface water when taking part in adventurous activities.
  • Wash off mud / water as soon as possible after taking part in adventurous activity ideally with clean water with soap and shower if necessary.
  • Avoid hand contact of your nose, eyes and mouth before washing.
  • Cycling activities consider wearing cycling glasses and, if practical, use bikes with mud guards.
  • If a participant has symptoms of Gastro-enteritis they should be isolated and returned home immediately and any surface or objects that could be contaminated cleaned with disinfectant and bedding be put into a hot wash.

These precautions, taken together, will greatly reduce the risk of E-coli O157 and other infections from this source, and allow your camping and outdoor activities to continue in greater safety.

If you need clarification on any of the above points contact the Safety Team at UK Headquarters by emailing us.