E. coli – What is it?

November 12, 2012

E. coli – What is it?

E. coli bacterium is usually found in the gut and digestive tracts of healthy humans and animals. Most of the types of E. coli known are harmless but others can cause the sufferer to become very ill, and in rare cases can even cause death. Symptoms include bloody diarrhea, they are described as enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC). One common type is called E. coli O157:H7. In some people, this type of E. coli may also cause severe anemia or kidney failure, which can lead to death. Different strains of E. coli can cause other infections such as urinary tract infections.

You get an E. coli infection by coming into contact with the feces, or stool, of humans or animals. This can happen when you drink water or eat food that has been contaminated by feces.

E. Coli O157 infects the body through the mouth and generally comes from the feces of infected farm animals or people. Its common entry method into the body is in food, or on the hands. It can easily be passed from person to person via commonly touched areas. It can happen any time that you eat food or drink water that has been contaminated.

The most common method of infection in the United States is thru eating infected food. E. coli can be present in any raw meat and then can infect other foodstuffs by contact. Yet it is easy to protect yourself from E. coli. You must ensure that all meat is cooked to more than 160°F (71°C). At these temperatures the bacteria cannot survive. You must also keep raw meat away from all other foodstuffs and thoroughly clean all working areas after working with raw meats.

Other foods can be infected with E. coli. Raw milk or dairy products can be high risk if they are not pasteurized. The E. coli bacteria can travel from a cow’s udders to its milk so it is very important that you only choose pasteurized products. The food or drink must be labeled as pasteurized and it means the food has gone thru a process where it has been heated to destroy bacteria.

Lettuce, alfalfa sprouts, or any other vegetables that may have come into contact with infected animal feces or unpasteurized fruit juices should all be treated with caution.

Any water source can be infected by E. coli which could have traveled in animal feces. If your water supply is treated properly with chlorine then there should not be any problems. However if you swim in a lake or river that is contaminated you can become infected.

Because of its ability to spread thru human to human contact it is very important that we all take good hygiene measures. Always wash our hands with hot soapy water whenever we have been to the bathroom or dealt with raw meat. And clean all common surfaces well to ensure no spread from that route.

The more serious E. coli 0157:H7 produces symptoms of stomach cramps, nausea and vomiting and severe, often bloody diarrhoea. Although most people recover without seeing a doctor after about a week, E. coli can become very serious and cause life-threatening kidney damage.

There are some people who do not see any symptoms and children are more susceptible to showing symptoms which normally start 3 or 4 days after being contaminated. It is not uncommon to have E. coli and because you recover quickly you do not even assume that you have had it. If you are unlucky enough to become severely ill because of it then your symptoms will include, pale skin, weakness, passing a little urine, fever and passing bloody diarrhea.

Diagnosis of E. coli can be done by testing a stool. After giving you an examination and questioning you about your symptoms a doctor will normally request a stool sample to confirm the presence of E. coli. Treatment for a normal case is simply ensuring that you stop yourself from dehydrating. Because of the diarrhea it is easy to dehydrate, sipping water and keeping yourself comfortable is the answer. You shouldn’t take anything like over the counter diarrhea medication because that slows down the passage of the bacteria in your stomach. This means that the E. coli remains present in your stomach for longer.

If the E. coli infection is severe then it can cause serious problems with the blood and kidneys. Hospital treatment will be required with the possibility of blood transfusions or dialysis to help filter and eliminate waste products from the blood. This will be used if the kidneys aren’t working properly.

To prevent an E. coli infection good hygiene rules must be followed. E. coli doesn’t have a smell or leave any other signs, everything looks normal. E. coli can be present in any food or water but we can prevent infection by always cooking meat to more than 71° C, that’s 160°F. Wash your hands frequently with hot soapy water whilst preparing food and ensure that all utensils and work surfaces which have had raw meat touch them are washed too.

When you do eat or drink then ensure that you only have pasteurized milk, dairy, and juice products and make sure that your water is treated or chlorinated. If you are on holiday then if in any doubt do not take ice or tap water. Only drink bottled water and don’t take any fruit that you cannot peel yourself.

Remember to wash your hands with soap after using the bathroom, or if you have youngster after you have helped them go to the toilet.

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