E. coli is the common term for a strain of bacteria known as Escherichia coli. Though some forms of E. coli are harmless and live in the body, others cause illnesses such as diarrhea, vomiting and even life-threatening complications.
An E. coli infection generally originates with contaminated food and water, although it can also be passed on by an infected person or animal. Undercooked red meat; raw, unwashed fruits and vegetables; and raw, unpasteurized varieties of milks and cheeses are major risks for E. coli infection. It can also come from contaminated water sources, whether it’s drinking water or an area where you swim. Contact with animals or the feces of an infected person can put you at risk, too.
Symptoms of E. Coli
Diarrhea, nausea and stomach cramping are typically symptoms of sickness from E. coli. Some strains of E. coli can cause severe cramping and bloody diarrhea and make you dangerously ill, necessitating prompt medical attention. Ultimately, the complications of infection with certain strains of E. coli can include kidney failure and even death.
Prevention and Treatment
The best weapon against a dangerous E. coli infection is prevention. That includes thorough and frequent washing of hands, particularly after handling food, touching animals, changing diapers or coming in contact with dirty water sources. It’s also very important to cook meats thoroughly, wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly, and avoid “raw,” unpasteurized forms of dairy products. Drink from only safe water sources, and avoid swallowing any water when swimming. Also be sure to check for any product recall notices that are related to an E. coli contamination.
If you get an E. coli infection, hydration and rest are recommended. Usually, the infection passes within a week or two. But, if you notice any alarming symptoms, particularly bloody diarrhea or excessive vomiting, see a doctor immediately. Physicians can test to isolate and identify the type of E. coli that you have and determine the proper treatment.
SOURCES: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; U.S. Department of Health & Human Services