E. coli are bacteria (germs) that normally live in the intestines of humans and animals. Although, most kinds of these bacteria are harmless, several can cause diarrhea. There are many types of E. coli that can cause these symptoms. These types of E. coli are called Shiga toxin producing E. coli and they can cause severe diarrhea and kidney damage. The most common is called E. coli O157:H7. For data on E. coli O157:H7 and other Shiga toxin producing E. coli infections in New York City visit EpiQuery .
Anyone can become infected with Shiga toxin producing E. coli , but children are more likely to develop serious complications.
E. coli germs are mostly found in cattle. Food-borne infections are often associated with contaminated beef products that are not thoroughly cooked before eating. Other outbreaks have been traced to unpasteurized milk, raw leafy vegetables or apple cider made from apples contaminated by cow manure. Direct person-to-person transmission can also occur.
People infected by Shiga toxin producing E. coli can develop a range of symptoms. Some infected people may have mild diarrhea or no symptoms at all. Most cases develop severe diarrhea and abdominal cramps. Blood is often seen in the stool. Usually little or no fever is present. These symptoms usually appear about 3 days after exposure, with a range of 1 to 9 days.
Infection with Shiga toxin producing E. coli can only be diagnosed by a special stool culture that is not performed in many laboratories. Public health authorities have advised doctors and laboratories to consider performing a special stool culture test if they suspect an E. coli infection, particularly in people with bloody diarrhea.
Most people recover without antibiotics or other specific treatment in 5 to 10 days. Antibiotics are not generally recommended as they may increase the release of harmful toxins from the bacteria.
In some people, particularly children under five years of age, the infection can cause a complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). This is a serious disease in which red blood cells are destroyed and the kidneys fail. Transfusions of blood or blood clotting factors as well as kidney dialysis may be necessary. A prolonged hospital stay is often required. Fortunately, most people with HUS recover completely, but it can be fatal.
Cook meat thoroughly.
Avoid unpasteurized foods and beverages.
Keep raw meats and their juices away from other foods.
Wash your hands often.
Casual contact at work or school is unlikely to transmit the infection. However, food handlers and children under the age of 5 who have a Shiga toxin producing E. coli (including O157:H7) infection should stay home until two stool cultures (obtained two days apart) have tested negative for the bacteria. Food handlers must obtain approval from the Health Department before returning to their regular duties at work.
Last updated March 2012