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Escherichia coli Infection

Definition

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

Causes

This infection is caused by some types of the E. coli bacterium. 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.

Factors that increase your chance of developing E. coli infection include:

  • People with another illness
  • Working with cattle
  • Living in northern states

Symptoms

Symptoms of E. coli infection include:

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
Kidney Dialysis
Dialysis pump
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Prevention

To help prevent 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.

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: Peter Lucas, MD
  • Review Date: 12/2014 -
  • Update Date: 01/13/2014 -
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

    http://www.cdc.gov

  • National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

    http://www.niaid.nih.gov

  • Canadian Food Inspection Agency

    http://www.inspection.gc.ca

  • Public Health Agency of Canada

    http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca

  • E Coli infection. American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/ecoli-infection.html. Updated April 2014. Accessed December 18, 2014.

  • E. coli (Escherichia coli) . Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/ecoli/. Updated December 1, 2014. Accessed December 18, 2014.

  • Frequently asked questions about Escherichia Coli infection. New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services website. Available at: http://www.nj.gov/health/cd/documents/factsheets/f%5Fecoli.pdf. Accessed December 18, 2014.