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In the last few years a bacteria named E. coli
has become a household name. What is E. coli? What dangers does it present, and
what are the precautions one should take to prevent being infected? Given
recent, serious outbreaks of illness, these are important questions.
Escherichia coli, more commonly called E. coli for obvious
reasons, comes in many strains. E. coli normally lives in the intestines of
humans and other warm-blooded animals without causing disease or illness.
However, the strain called E. coli 0157:H7 is different. This strain, first
linked to human illness in 1982, produces a dangerous toxin which is very
harmful to humans.
Anyone can contract E. coli, but elderly people and those
under five years of age appear more likely to develop serious infections.
Infection can cause a complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). This
is a disease in which red blood cells are destroyed and the kidneys fail. The
majority of people contracting HUS recover completely, however it can be fatal.
The most common source of E. coli infection is red meat,
especially ground beef which is rare or undercooked. However, E. coli 0157:H7
has been found in other food items such as mayonnaise, unpasteurized milk, some
unpasteurized juices, and contaminated water. Person-to-person transmission of
this bacteria is also on the rise. This manner of transmission is typically from
an infected child or adult who does not wash their hands thoroughly after using
What are the Symptoms. Symptoms of an E. coli infection appear
about 3 days after exposure, although it can range between 1 to 9 days. The
symptoms of E. coli can be bloody or non-bloody diarrhea or abdominal cramps.
Some amount of blood is usually found in the stool as well. This infection
usually causes little or no fever. Most infected people will recover without
medication in 5 to 10 days. Fluid and electrolyte replacement is important when
diarrhea is present or there are signs of dehydration. The use of antibiotics in
fighting the disease are unproven to date. Anti-diarrheal medication should be
There are several simple and straight forward ways to prevent being infected by E. coli 0157:H7:
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