Escherichia coli (E. Coli Infection)

Some types of Escherichia coli bacteria, usually called E. coli, can cause food borne illness.

Harmless strains of E. coli are found in nature. They are in the intestinal tracts of human beings and warm-blooded animals.

Disease-causing strains of E. coli are a frequent cause of intestinal and urinary-genital tract infections.

Some strains of harmful Escherichia coli can cause diarrhoeal disease. Enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC) is particularly dangerous. EHEC frequently causes bloody diarrhoea. It can lead to kidney failure in children or people with weak immune systems.

Symptoms of E. coli Infection

E. coli toxins can damage the lining of your intestine. Symptoms include,

  • Nausea
  • Severe abdominal cramps
  • Watery or very bloody diarrhoea
  • Tiredness
  • Fever
  • Vomiting

    Symptoms typically begin from 2 to 5 days after eating contaminated food. They can last for 8 days.

    Enterotoxigenic E. coli (ETEC) produce a toxin similar to Cholera toxin. These can cause diarrhoea.

    Enterotoxigenic E. coli commonly contaminates food and water in developing countries.

    Another strain, Enteropathogenic E. coli (EPEC), is associated with persistent diarrhoea, which can last for 2 weeks or more.

    Like, Enterotoxigenic E. coli, they are common in developing countries where they can be transmitted by contaminated water or contact with infected animals.

    Transmission of E. Coli

    Eating meat, especially ground beef, which has not been cooked sufficiently to kill E. coli, can cause infection. Contaminated meat looks and smells normal.

    E. coli bacteria and its toxins have been found in

  • Undercooked or raw hamburgers
  • Salami
  • Alfalfa sprouts
  • Lettuce
  • Unpasteurized milk, apple juice, and apple cider
  • Contaminated well water

    Swimmers have been infected by accidentally swallowing unchlorinated or under chlorinated water especially in swimming pools contaminated by human excrement. Swimming or drinking sewage-contaminated water can also lead to infection.

    Person-to-person contact can also spread E. Coli. Childcare centres present significant mode of E. Coli transmission amongst children.

    Other sources of infection are consumption of contaminated sprouts, lettuce, salami, unpasteurized milk and juice.

    E. Coli Infection Diagnosis

    Laboratory tests are normally done to identify E. coli if you are infected.

    Treatment of E. Coli Infection

    Individuals infected with a strain called E. coli O157:H7 can expect to recover within 5 to 10 days without treatment.

    Antibiotics are generally not helpful. Health experts usually advise patients not to take anti-diarrhoeal medicines such as loperamide (Imodium) after contact with Escherichia coli.

    Escherichia coli Prevention

  • Wash hands carefully before preparing food and eating
  • Eat thoroughly cooked beef and beef products.
  • Cook ground beef patties to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Keep raw meat separate from ready-to-eat foods.
  • Wash hands, counters, and utensils with hot soapy water after they touch raw meat.
  • Avoid unpasteurized juices.
  • Drink only pasteurised milk.
  • Drink water that has been treated with chlorine or other effective disinfectants.
  • Wash fresh fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating raw or cooked.

    E. Coli Complications

    A serious complication of EHEC is called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). It leads to destruction of the red blood cells and kidney failure. About 2%-7% of infections lead to this complication.

    Hemolytic uremic syndrome is the most common cause of acute kidney failure in children, who are particularly prone to this complication.

    It is usually treated in an intensive care unit of a hospital. Occasionally, blood transfusions and kidney dialysis are needed in the treatment.

    Even with the patient receiving intensive care, the death rate from hemolytic uremic syndrome can be about 3%-5%.

    Long Term Consequences of Escherichia coli Infection

    About one-third of persons with hemolytic uremic syndrome have abnormal kidney function years later. Some require long-term dialysis.

    Some 8% of persons with hemolytic uremic syndrome have other lifelong difficulties. These include high blood pressure, seizures, blindness, paralysis, and the effects of having part of their bowel removed.

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