E. coli has been in the news lately, with its recent outbreak in romaine lettuce. But what exactly is this bacteria and why is it so bad for you?
We got your back with these 10 facts about E. coli. So the next time this infamous bacteria is in the news, you’ll know why.
1. Understanding The Facts About E. Coli
E. coli or Escherichia coli is a type of bacteria that typically live in your intestines and can be found in the gut of some animals.
Most forms of E. coli are harmless and can even keep your digestive tract healthy, like the good bacteria from probiotics. But other strains of the bacteria can cause diarrhea or worse symptoms if you consume a food or drink that is contaminated with E. coli.
We tend to associate E. coli with food poisoning, but you also can get pneumonia, experience trouble breathing, or even get a urinary tract infection. 75% to 95% of urinary tract infections are caused by this bacteria.
2. Some Strains of E. Coli Are More Dangerous Than Others
There are other versions of E. coli that can make you sick as these versions develop a toxin called Shiga, which damages the lining of your intestine. The strain of E. coli that makes this toxin is sometimes called STEC, which stands for “Shiga toxin-producing E. coli.”
Another bad strain of E. coli is O157: H7, which can make you very sick. This strain can cause cramps in the abdominal area, vomiting and bloody diarrhea.
It’s also the leading cause of acute kidney failure in children and can lead to life-threatening symptoms of adult kidney failure, fever, bleeding, confusion and seizure. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, contact your doctor immediately.
3. Food That Can Have E. Coli
You can acquire E. coli by even ingesting the smallest amounts of this bacteria. Here are some common instances where you can get E. coli:
You could eat ground meat that carries E. coli, which means the meat wasn’t cooked enough to kill the bacteria. When meat is processed or ground, sometimes parts of the animal’s intestines (which is where E. coli lives) can get into the ground meat. This is more likely to happen if the meat comes from more than one animal.
If you drink unpasteurized milk, this means the milk hasn’t been heated to kill bacteria. There’s a good chance E. coli can get into the milk from the cow’s udder or from milking tools.
You can also get E. coli from unpasteurized fruit juice (like cold-pressed juices) and yogurt or cheese made from raw milk.
Fruits & Vegetables
Like we just experienced with romaine lettuce, you could eat fresh fruits and vegetables that have been in water that is full of the bacteria. This happens the most when crops and animals share a water supply.
4. Other Ways to Get E. Coli
E. coli doesn’t only live in food, there are other ways you can get it or pass it on.
E. coli can come from the water around you that you might swallow while swimming in a pool, lake or pond.
Other People and Animals
You can even get E. coli from another person who has it, like a child. The bacteria can be spread if you clean up after an infected person and don’t wash your hands before touching your mouth.
You could also spread this bacteria if you use your knife to cut through uncooked meat like chicken that can have the bacteria, and then use that same knife to cut through a tomato, without washing it. This is why you should always immediately disinfect knives you use on raw meat.
5. Know The Likelihood of Getting E. Coli
Of course, you should always be extra careful with all the instances just listed. It might also help to know the breakdown of E. coli bacteria sources from 1998 to 2007.
During this almost 10 year period, 68% of E. coli cases were found in food, while water cases were only 18%, followed by animals or their environment that had 8% and at last person to person with 6%.
6. Look Out for E. coli Symptoms
There are a couple of E. coli symptoms you should be aware of. These symptoms usually start two to five days after the infection. They include the sudden start of cramps and abdominal pain, and then diarrhea within 24 hours. Diarrhea will become increasingly watery and then noticeably bloody.
People with this infection will also feel nauseated and have headaches, while less common, people might also experience fever and chills.
7. Know About HUS: A Rare but Serious Complication
About 10 percent of E. coli infections get Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome or HUS. This happens when Shiga toxins get into the bloodstream and cause a kidney injury, which can lead to kidney failure.
Some HUS sufferers can also get damage to the pancreas and impairment to the central nervous system.
8. How E. coli is Diagnosed
If you think you have a Shiga toxin-producing E. coli infection, you can find out for sure by getting diagnosed by a doctor or emergency room by hospital lab analysis of a stool sample.
The bacteria is then isolated from the stool sample and compared through laboratory analysis which then helps match the strains of E. coli to the food or another source it came from. This process is called “fingerprinting.”
9. Treatment for E. coli Infection
Luckily the illness from E. coli typically goes away within a week and doesn’t cause any long-term problems. While you have the infection, make sure to stay hydrated and get proper nutrition.
Antibiotics are actually not used as an E. coli treatment, as they do not improve the illness, and some cases have shown that antibiotics can actually increase the risk of HUS.
If you have HUS, then you will be treated by hospitalization, as there is no way to directly cure HUS, the care is just to alleviate the symptoms.
10. Preventing Infection from E. coli Bacteria
There are some things you can do to prevent or reduce your risk of getting E. coli. This includes washing your hand thoroughly before and after eating or going to the bathroom.
Another way to prevent this bacteria is to sanitize all fruits and vegetables, or skinning and washing them before eating. Also, keep an eye out for local restaurants with health problems or sanitation. you can ask your local department of health for this information.
Avoid having raw meat in contact with other foods while cooking, and make sure ground meat has an internal temperature of at least 160 F before consuming.
Hopefully, these facts about E. coli have given you more insight on how to treat and prevent this bacteria. Now that you know more about this bacteria and where it comes from, it should be easier to avoid getting it.
Stay alert, be aware, and wash your hands. For more information on health news, check out our blog.