E. Coli

What is E. Coli?

E. coli (full name Escherichia coli) is a type of bacteria that is often found in human and animal digestive tracts. Most kinds of E. coli are harmless. However, some have been known to cause problems that can range from relatively minor symptoms to severe health issues and even death.

Children are more likely to encounter complications than adults, and the first signs of infection are typically noticed after a few days. The infection lasts for around a week, though many people do not realize that the bacterium caused the infection and therefore do not seek treatment.

E. coli is contracted by coming in direct contact with the stool of infected humans and animals. Sometimes, this might happen after eating food or drinking untreated water that has been contaminated in such a way. However, the bacteria can also find its way into meat while it is being processed. If not cooked to the proper temperature, E. coli can infect anyone who eats it. In the United States, this is the most common method in which this bacterium is spread. Dairy products and raw milk, vegetables, and fruit can also become contaminated.

What are the Symptoms of E. Coli?

The main symptoms of the more harmless types of E. coli bacterium are:

  • Abdominal cramps
  • Bloody or watery diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Gas
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite

Interestingly, some people show no symptoms after becoming infected. In other cases, serious problems can arise within the kidneys or blood, and symptoms may include:

  • Fever
  • Pale skin
  • Bruising
  • Weakness
  • Passing small amounts of urine
  • Bloody urine
  • Dehydration

E. Coli Causes

You can get E. Coli infection when you come into contact with fecal waste from human or animals. This can happen when you eat food or drink water that has been contaminated with human or animal waste.

E. Coli bacteria can also get into contact with meat or fish products during preparation. If contaminated meat is not properly cooked (to 160 degrees Fahrenheit), the bacteria can survive and infect those who consume it. Most people get infected by E. Coli through improperly cooked contaminated meat products.

Dairy products, especially raw milk, can also cause E. Coli infection. This occurs when bacteria is transferred from the cow’s udder during milking. This means that milk has to be pasteurized to destroy E. Coli bacteria. Raw vegetables and fruits such as alfalfa sprouts, lettuce and unpasteurized juices can cause E. Coli when processed in unhygienic conditions.

E. Coli infection can also occur as a result of person to person contact. The infected person can spread E. Coli, usually if they do not wash hands after a bowel movement.

How is E. Coli Treated?

An E. coli infection will often go away on its own with a little home care.

Treatment includes

Drinking lots of water, getting plenty of rest, and keeping an eye on whether symptoms become any worse. Anti-diarrheal medications may help, but they should not be given to children without first speaking to a doctor.

Cases with severe dehydration may require hospitalization and IV fluids.

E. Coli Prevention

Presently, there is no vaccine against E. Coli infection. To prevent E. Coli infection, exercise caution and avoid risky foods. Avoid taking raw or unpasteurized milk, juice and cider at all times.

Cook all foods, especially animal products, thoroughly. Hamburgers should cook until they reach 160 degrees. Color change alone should not be an indicator of whether or not your meat is properly cooked.

Thoroughly wash fruits and vegetables before consuming or preparing salads. Next to this, ensure that your utensils are thoroughly washed using running water. Wash knives, cutting boards and countertops with hot soapy water after they come into contact with raw meat or fruits and vegetables.

Separate raw foods from cooked ones. This includes using separate cutting boards for raw meat and foods, such as fruits and vegetables. Never mix raw foods with cooked ones.

Finally, wash your hands before meals, after using the toilet, changing diapers as well as before and after preparing food. Also, ensure that kids wash their hands after using the toilet, before eating and after contact with animals.

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Last Reviewed:
September 20, 2016
Last Updated:
December 18, 2017