E. Coli Infection - What is Escherichia Coli? Prevention Tips & Symptoms of E. Coli

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What is E. coli?

E. coli is a gram negative bacterium found in the intestines of animals. Although most strains of this bacterium are harmless, some of them can cause severe food poisoning in humans. E-coli or Escherichia coli was discovered by a German pediatrician and bacteriologist, Theodor Esherich. E. coli infections are fairly common in the summer months and children and the elderly are the worst sufferers of E. coli symptoms.

How you can get an E. coli infection?

An E. coli infection may occur if you come into contact with infected feces of humans or animals. The most common way is eating contaminated food. The E. coli bacteria may be present in the intestines of healthy cattle and contaminate the meat during the slaughtering process. If you eat undercooked ground beef, drink contaminated water, drink raw milk which has not been pasteurized, or eat raw fruits and vegetables that have come in contact with infected animal feces, you make yourself susceptible to it. It can also be passed from person to person.

What are the symptoms of an E. coli infection?

The symptoms of usually appear after about a week of being infected with the bacteria. Abdominal cramps followed by watery diarrhea are the first symptoms this infection. The dehydration caused by the loss of fluids makes an individual feel sick and tired. Soon, it makes sores in the intestines and the stools become bloody. An individual also might suffer from mild fever and nausea or vomiting.

How is an E. coli infection diagnosed?

The presence of the bacterium is diagnosed with the help of a stool culture. The culture is taken within the first 48 hours of the bloody diarrhea. There is no treatment for this infection. Your physician will ask you to drink a lot of water and make sure that there are no further complications. Severe dehydration may require intravenous fluids in the hospital.

How can one prevent an E. coli infection?

Here are some tips that can help you prevent an E. coli infection:

  • Ground beef should always be cooked properly. Make sure that there is no pink left in the middle of the meat patties. If you are eating out, make sure that ground beef is cooked properly before consuming it. If you have a meat thermometer, make sure that thickest part is cooked at a temperature of at least 160°F.

  • Always keep raw meat away from ready-to-eat food. Cooked hamburgers should never be placed in unwashed plates which contained raw ground beef.

  • When you touch raw meat, make sure that you wash your hands properly with soap water. Counters and utensils which have come in contact with raw meat should also be washed with hot soapy water.

  • Never drink milk, juice, or cider that is not pasteurized.

  • If you plan to consume raw fruits or vegetables, make sure that they are thoroughly washed to clean all traces of contamination.

  • Only drink clean and disinfected water. Avoid swallowing water while swimming in the pool or the lake.

  • Leftovers should be thrown away or refrigerated immediately.

  • Raw meat and poultry should always be kept away from other foods in the refrigerator. If you don’t plan on cooking ground beef immediately after buying it, place it in a moisture-lock bag and put it in the freezer.

  • If you or anyone in your family has an E. coli infection, make sure that they wash their hands carefully after bowel movements, and avoid swimming in public pools and lakes and cooking food for others. This reduces the chances of the infection spreading from one person to the other.

Simple precautions can help protect you and your loved ones from getting an E. coli infection. This bacteria can lead to complications such as hemolytic uremic syndrome which is characterized by low red blood cell count, low platelet count and renal failure. If you do end up noticing symptoms of an E. coli infection, make sure to consult your physician right away.