written by: Sarah Irene
• edited by: lrohner
• updated: 12/24/2010
Intestinal bacterial infections can be spread easily. They are responsible for several uncomfortable symptoms but are usually cleared up within a few days to a week. In more severe cases, you may suffer complications like weight loss, dehydration and, rarely, death.
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Intestinal bacterial infections are most often caused by one of several possible bacteria. This type of illness is usually called gastrointestinal infection. Gastrointestinal infection is quite common and isn't usually serious. Common symptoms include diarrhea, abdominal cramping, bloating, gas and sometimes vomiting. More serious symptoms include bloody diarrhea, fever and long-lasting diarrhea or vomiting. In most cases of this illness treatment is done at home with bland foods and plenty of fluids. When the bacteria infection is more severe or is affecting an individual with other health concerns an antibiotic may be prescribed. Numerous bacterium are responsible for gastrointestinal infection. The three most common culprits include E. coli, salmonella and shigella.
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E. Coli Bacteria
E. coli is the shortened name for the escherichia coli bacteria. This organism typically enters the body through food or beverages that have been consumed. Common sources include beef and poultry products. E. coli is naturally found in the intestinal tract of these animals. It is passed from the animal through fecal matter. During the slaughter and preparation of the animals the feces can come in contact with the meat product that will later be sold to consumers. Handling this food, placing it on other surfaces, allowing it to come into contact with other utensils or food items or failing to cook the item fully can allow the bacteria to thrive and be consumed. Heating the meat to the appropriate temperature can reduce the risk of contracting an e. coli infection. An infected individual can pass the bacteria to another individual by failing to wash their hands after a bowel movement and handling food or beverages.
Typically an E. coli infection lasts between 24 and 72 hours. The most common symptoms with this infection are the same as any other gastrointestinal infection and include sudden and severe diarrhea. This bacteria is most likely to cause bloody diarrhea. In very rare cases an E. coli infection causes pale skin, red or bloody urine and reduced urine output.
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Like E. coli, salmonella bacteria most often causes an infection of the intestines when it is consumed through various meat or poultry products. Salmonella also exists in the digestive tract of animals and can make its way into food products during processing. Some of the most common sources of salmonella infection include undercooked chicken, turkey and raw or undercooked eggs. Reptiles, including household pets like turtles, carry salmonella. Handling these pets without washing your hands can increase your risk of a salmonella infection, called salmonellosis.
Salmonellosis symptoms begin within 8 to 48 hours of consuming the bacteria. The most common symptoms include abdominal pain, chills, fever, diarrhea, muscle pain, nausea and vomiting. As with any intestinal infection, salmonella can lead to dehydration if fluids are not replaced after vomiting and bouts of diarrhea.
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Shigella is a group of bacteria that cause shigellosis, a type of bacterial infection that affects the lining of the intestines. The most common sources of this bacteria exist in areas that have poor sanitation and crowded living conditions. It is most common among travelers who are visiting developing countries. It can also exist in child care settings. The bacterium are easily spread from one ill person to another due to poor hand sanitation. Only a small quantity of contaminated fecal matter is needed to create an infection in another individual.
Symptoms of this intestinal infection begin within three days of the bacteria entering the body. It is very common to have watery diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, blood or mucus in the stool, pain in the rectum and a sudden onset of pain in the abdomen and a fever. Most cases of shigella are not fatal but one rare strain, shigella dysenteriae, can be but is rare in the United States.
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University of Maryland Medical Center: E. coli enteritis http://www.umm.edu/ency/article/000296sym.htm
Kids Health: Gastrointestinal Infections and Diarrhea http://kidshealth.org/teen/infections/bacterial_viral/diarrhea.html
University of Maryland Medical Center: Bacterial Gastroenteritis http://www.umm.edu/ency/article/000254.htm