What is E.Coli?
E. coli (Escherichia coli), is a type of bacteria that normally lives in your intestines. It is also found in the intestine of some animals. Most types of E. coli are harmless and even help keep your digestive tract healthy. But some strains can cause diarrhoea if you eat contaminated food or drink dirty water.
While many of us associate E. coli with food poisoning, you can also get pneumonia and urinary tract infections from different types of bacteria. In fact, 75% to 95% of urinary tract infections are caused by E.coli recombinants. E.coli is a normal resident of the intestine, which is how it reaches the urinary tract. Some versions of E. coli make you sick by producing a toxin called Shiga. This toxin damages the lining of your intestine.
The strains of E. coli that produce the toxin are sometimes called STEC, which is short for “Shiga toxin-producing E. coli.” One especially bad strain, O157:H7, can make you very sick. It causes abdominal cramps, vomiting and bloody diarrhoea. It is the main cause of acute renal failure in children. It can also cause life-threatening symptoms such as:
- Kidney failure in adults
You should get emergency help if you have any of these symptoms.
How do you get infected?
You can become infected when you swallow even a small amount of the E. coli bacteria. Among the ways this can happen:
- Ground meat: You eat ground meat that contains E. coli, and the meat was not cooked long enough to kill the bacteria. When meat is processed, sometimes bacteria from the intestines of animals find their way into the meat. This happens more with ground beef because it comes from more than one animal.
- Untreated milk: You drink unpasteurized milk, which has not been heated to kill bacteria. E. coli can enter milk from the cow’s udder or from milking equipment.
- Vegetables and fruits: You can eat fresh vegetables or fruits that have been contaminated by water that has the bacteria. This most often happens when manure from nearby animals mixes with the water supply.
- Other foods and drinks: You can also get E. coli from unpasteurized fruit juices and yoghurt and cheese made from raw milk.
- Water: You swallow water that contains E. coli, perhaps while swimming in a pool, lake, or pond.
- Other people: You may get E. coli from someone else who has it, such as a child. The bacteria can spread to you if you clean up after an infected person and then don’t wash your hands very well before touching your mouth.
- Animals: Can be found in petting zoos or animal exhibits at fairs.
You can also contaminate food in your own kitchen if you allow a knife or cutting board that has been in contact with raw meat (such as chicken) to come into contact with food that will be eaten raw (such as salad).
He will probably begin to feel sick 2 to 5 days after ingesting the E. coli bacteria. The most common symptoms are:
- abdominal cramps
- Diarrhea, which can be bloody
- constant fatigue
You may not have a fever. If it does, it may be mild. Healthy people infected with E. coli usually feel better within a week. But some people have a serious complication called a hemolytic uremic syndrome, which affects the kidneys. This is more likely to happen to older people and children.
The only way your doctor can know for sure if you have an E. coli infection is to send a sample of your stool to a lab for testing. Fortunately, the infection usually clears up on its own. For some types of E.coli associated with diarrhoea, such as watery traveller’s diarrhoea, antibiotics can shorten the duration of symptoms and may be used in moderately severe cases. But if you have a fever or bloody diarrhoea, or if your doctor suspects it is Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, you should not take antibiotics.
In fact, they can increase Shiga toxin production and make symptoms worse. It is important to rest and drink plenty of fluids to replace what your body is losing through vomiting or diarrhoea. Don’t take over-the-counter medications that fight diarrhoea. You don’t want to slow down your digestive system, because that will slow down the removal of the infection from your body. When you start to feel better, choose low-fibre foods at first, such as:
Dairy products and foods that are high in fat or fibre can make your symptoms worse.
One of the most important things you can do to protect yourself and your family from E. coli is to wash your hands, especially in these situations:
- Before preparing food
- Before preparing bottles or baby or toddler food
- Before touching anything, such as a pacifier, that goes into a young child’s mouth.
- After you have used the bathroom or changed a diaper
- After having contact with animals, including your own pets
- After handling raw meat
You can also prevent E. coli infections by being careful about foods that have the highest chance of contamination:
- Cook burgers until 160 F inside.
- Drink only pasteurized milk, juice and cider.
- Wash all your produce before eating it. Take special care to remove dirt from green leafy vegetables such as lettuce and spinach.
In your kitchen, a couple of simple rules will help keep you safe:
- Washing: Clean knives, counters, and cutting boards with hot, soapy water after raw meat has touched them.
- Keep raw and cooked separately: Use different cutting boards for foods you eat raw, like vegetables and fruits. Do not return cooked meat to the same plate used for raw meat without first washing the plate. When you’re swimming, try not to swallow any water, whether it’s a pool, a lake, or the ocean. May be contaminated with E. coli from faeces.