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How to respond to the E. coli contamination saga

December 6, 2022

How to respond to the E. coli contamination saga - featured image

With holidays to coastal areas about to begin, Dr. Eric du Preez breaks down the dos and don’ts of playing or swimming in water potentially infected with E. coli.

So much talk, this holiday season, surrounds South African coastal holiday destinations that have reported high levels of E. coli in the water. Dr. Eric du Preez is the Head of the Busamed Gateway Private Hospital Emergency Centre. He says the first thing to understand is what causes E. coli to be in water.

E. coli and faecal coliform bacteria can exist in water due to human or animal waste. What causes human waste to appear in water is improperly treated wastewater discharged into rivers, dams and oceans through water treatment plants – as is currently the problem in South Africa. Dr. Du Preez says drinking water with high levels of E. coli can cause short-term illness, such as diarrhea, cramps, nausea, headaches.

“E. coli exists naturally in humans in the lower intestine, but it is not tolerated by the body in other regions like the upper gastrointestinal tract. If you consume contaminated water, you will likely display signs and symptoms of being infected because the body will try to eliminate the bacteria from this area.”

“You may not experience immediate signs of infections. Symptoms could begin to show in a matter of hours, but typically, two to five days after exposure to the bacteria.”
In certain cases, E. coli may penetrate the skin through minor scrapes and cuts.
This can result in a soft tissue infection called cellulitis.
Dr. Du Preez says that this condition is caused when a person walks or bathes in highly contaminated water and the E. coli bacteria infiltrates the soft tissue which lies beneath the skin.
Common symptoms include pain and swelling. In these cases, patients are treated with powerful antibiotics.

“In rare cases, E. coli can cause necrotising fasciitis – or flesh-eating bacteria. If this is not treated promptly, infection may spread and surgery might be required to debride dead tissue or even amputate.” Dr. Du Preez says these circumstances are very rare, but all instances of pain and swelling should be examined by a doctor, especially if one has been around water bodies.

Several investigations show South Africa is battling inferior wastewater discharges from its wastewater treatment plants. He says those feeling unsure about their coastal holidays should buy bottled water to drink. One could consume water that has been boiled for between one to three minutes and left to cool, to keep hydrated.

Dr. Du Preez warns the public to be aware of misinformation regarding E. coli. “Do not attempt to make water safe by adding chlorine or household products to it. You could poison yourself or others.” He added that E. Coli could not spread by coughing, kissing, or through normal, social interactions.

If you are experiencing an emergency, take note of our Emergency Units at these locations:
If you or someone you know are experiencing trauma, call our emergency unit at once:


Modderfontein Private Hospital
011 458 2084


Gateway Private Hospital
031 492 1234

Hillcrest Private Hospital
031 768 8911

Western Cape

Paardevlei Private Hospital
021 842 6642/3

Free State

Bram Fishcher International Airport Hospital
051 412 4269

Harrismith Private Hospital
058 304 3064

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