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by McCoy K

Definition

Escherichia coli (E. coli) infection is caused by a bacterium. It is the leading cause of bloody diarrhea.

Causes

This infection is caused by some types of the E. coli bacteria. Most E. coli infections are caused by:

  • Eating undercooked beef, especially ground beef
  • Drinking contaminated water
  • Drinking unpasteurized milk
  • Working with cattle
Digestive Pathway Through Stomach and Intestines
Digestive pathway
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Risk Factors

This condition is more common in children and older adults.

Other factors that increase your chances of an E. coli infection:

  • Contact with people with another illness
  • Working with cattle
  • Living in northern states

Symptoms

Symptoms of E. coli infection include:

  • Abdominal cramps
  • Watery diarrhea
  • Dehydration
  • Fatigue
  • Bright red, bloody stools
  • Mild fever
  • Nausea or vomiting

Diagnosis

You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Your waste material may be tested. This can be done with a stool culture.

Treatment

Talk with your doctor about the best plan for you. Treatment options include:

Fluid Replacement and Monitoring

Most people will get better in 5-10 days. They rarely need a specific treatment. Avoid medication that stops diarrhea. Drink plenty of water and fluids. Fluids through an IV line may be needed in cases of severe dehydration .

Treatment for Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS)

HUS is a life-threatening condition. It occurs in some people with E. coli infection. HUS may need to be treated with blood transfusions and kidney dialysis . Symptoms may include:

  • Pale complexion, tiredness, and irritability
  • Small, unexplained bruises, or bleeding from the nose or mouth—caused by problems in the body’s clotting mechanism
Hemodialysis
Dialysis pump
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Prevention

To help reduce your chances of an E. coli infection:

  • Cook all ground beef and hamburger thoroughly.
  • Avoid eating undercooked hamburger or other ground beef.
  • Keep raw meats separate from ready-to-eat foods.
  • Wash hands, counters, and utensils with hot soapy water after they are exposed to raw meat.
  • Drink only pasteurized milk, juice, and cider.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables under running water.
  • Drink municipal water that has been treated with a disinfectant.
  • Wash hands after bowel movements and after changing soiled diapers.

RESOURCES

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  https://www.cdc.gov 

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases  https://www.niaid.nih.gov 

CANADIAN RESOURCES

Canadian Food Inspection Agency  http://www.inspection.gc.ca 

Public Health Agency of Canada  https://www.canada.ca 

References

E. coli infection. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: https://familydoctor.org/condition/e-coli-infection. Updated April 2014. Accessed December 8, 2017.

E. coli (Escherichia coli). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/ecoli. Updated November 20, 2017. Accessed December 8, 2017.

Hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS). EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:  https://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116202/Hemolytic-uremic-syndrome-HUS  . Updated May 17, 2017. Accessed December 8, 2017.

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