E. coli

E. coli

E. coli is the name of a type of bacteria that lives in your intestines and in the intestines of animals. Although most types of E. coli are harmless, some types can make you sick.

The worst type of E. coli, causes bloody diarrhea and can sometimes cause kidney failure and even death.  A specific strain of E.coli makes a toxin called Shiga toxin and is known as a Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC).  There are many other types of STEC, and some can make you just as sick as E. coli O157:H7.

One severe complication associated with E. coli infection is hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). The infection produces toxic substances that destroy red blood cells, causing kidney injury. HUS can require intensive care, kidney dialysis, and transfusions.

Sources

  • Contaminated food, especially undercooked ground beef, unpasteurized (raw) milk and juice, soft cheeses made from raw milk, and raw fruits and vegetables (such as sprouts)
  • Contaminated water, including drinking untreated water and swimming in contaminated water
  • Animals and their environment: particularly cows, sheep, and goats. If you don’t wash your hands carefully after touching an animal or its environment, you could get an E. coli infection
  • Feces of infected people

Incubation Period

1-10 days

Symptoms

Severe diarrhea that is often bloody, severe abdominal pain, and vomiting. Usually, little or no fever is present. Symptoms of HUS include decreased urine production, dark or tea-colored urine, and facial pallor.

Duration of Illness

5-10 days. Most people will be better in 6-8 days.

If HUS develops, it usually occurs after about 1 week.

What Do I Do?

Drink plenty of fluids and get rest. If you cannot drink enough fluids to prevent dehydration or if your symptoms are severe (including blood in your stools or severe abdominal pain), call your doctor. Antibiotics should not be used to treat this infection.

How Can I Prevent It?

  • Avoid eating high-risk foods, especially undercooked ground beef, unpasteurized milk or juice, soft cheeses made from unpasteurized milk, or alfalfa sprouts.
  • Use a food thermometer to make sure that ground beef has reached a safe internal temperature of 160° F.
  • Wash hands before preparing food, after diapering infants, and after contact with cows, sheep, or goats, their food or treats, or their living environment .
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