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Definition

What is Escherichia Coli infection?

E. coli (Escherichia coli) is the name of a germ, or bacterium, that lives in the digestive tracts of humans and animals.

There are many types of E. coli, and most of them are harmless. But some can cause bloody diarrhea, severe anemia or kidney failure, which can lead to death.

Other strains of E. coli can cause urinary tract infections or other infections.

How common is Escherichia Coli infection?

Escherichia Coli infection is extremely common. It can affect patients at any age. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of Escherichia Coli infection?

The common symptoms of Escherichia Coli infection are:

  • Diarrhea, which may range from mild and watery to severe and bloody
  • Abdominal cramping, pain or tenderness
  • Nausea and vomiting, in some people

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

You should contact your doctor if you have any of the following: persistent, severe or bloody.

Causes

What causes Escherichia Coli infection?

Among the many strains of E. Coli, only a few trigger diarrhea. One group of E. Coli – which includes O157:H7 – produces a powerful toxin that damages the lining of the small intestine, which can cause bloody diarrhea. You develop an E. Coli infection when you ingest this strain of bacteria.

Unlike many other disease-causing bacteria, E. Coli can cause an infection even if you ingest only small amounts. Because of this, you can be sickened by E. Coli from eating a slightly undercooked hamburger or from swallowing a mouthful of contaminated pool water.

Potential sources of exposure include contaminated food or water and person-to-person contact.

The most common way to acquire an E. Coli infection is by eating contaminated food, such as:

  • Ground beef. When cattle are slaughtered and processed, E. Coli bacteria in their intestines can get on the meat. Ground beef combines meat from many different animals, increasing the risk of contamination.
  • Unpasteurized milk. E. Coli bacteria on a cow’s udder or on milking equipment can get into raw milk.
  • Fresh produce. Runoff from cattle farms can contaminate fields where fresh produce is grown. Certain vegetables, such as spinach and lettuce, are particularly vulnerable to this type of contamination.

Human and animal feces may pollute ground and surface water, including streams, rivers, lakes and water used to irrigate crops. Although public water systems use chlorine, ultraviolet light or ozone to kill E. Coli, some outbreaks have been linked to contaminated municipal water supplies.

Private wells are a greater cause for concern because they don’t often have any disinfecting system. Rural water supplies are the most likely to be contaminated. Some people also have been infected after swimming in pools or lakes contaminated with feces.

E. Coli bacteria can easily travel from person to person, especially when infected adults and children don’t wash their hands properly. Family members of young children with E. Coli infection are especially likely to acquire it themselves. Outbreaks have also occurred among children visiting petting zoos and in animal barns at county fairs.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for Escherichia Coli infection?

There are many risk factors for Escherichia Coli infection, such as:

  • Young children and older adults are at higher risk of experiencing illness caused by E. Coli and more-serious complications from the infection.
  • Weakened immune systems. People who have weakened immune systems — from AIDS or drugs to treat cancer or prevent the rejection of organ transplants — are more likely to become ill from ingesting E. Coli.
  • Eating certain types of food. Riskier foods include undercooked hamburger; unpasteurized milk, apple juice or cider; and soft cheeses made from raw milk.
  • Time of year.
  • Decreased stomach acid levels. Stomach acid offers some protection against E. Coli. If you take medications to reduce your levels of stomach acid, such as esomeprazole (Nexium), pantoprazole (Protonix), lansoprazole (Prevacid) and omeprazole (Prilosec), you may increase your risk of an E. Coli infection.

Diagnosis & Treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

 

How is Escherichia Coli infection diagnosed?

To diagnose illness caused by E. Coli infection, your doctor will send a sample of your stool to a laboratory to test for the presence of E. Coli bacteria. The bacteria may be cultured to confirm the diagnosis and identify specific toxins, such as those produced by E. Coli O157:H7.

How is Escherichia Coli infection treated?

For illness caused by E. Coli, no current treatments can cure the infection, relieve symptoms or prevent complications. For most people, treatment includes:

  • Rest
  • Fluids to help prevent dehydration and fatigue

Avoid taking an anti-diarrheal medication — this slows your digestive system down, preventing your body from getting rid of the toxins. Antibiotics generally aren’t recommended because they can increase the risk of serious complications.

If you have a serious E. Coli infection that has caused hemolytic uremic syndrome, you’ll be hospitalized and given supportive care, including IV fluids, blood transfusions and kidney dialysis.

Lifestyle changes & Home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage Escherichia Coli infection?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with Escherichia Coli infection:

  • Clear liquids. Drink plenty of clear liquids, including water, clear sodas and broths, gelatin, and juices. Avoid apple and pear juices, caffeine, and alcohol.
  • Add foods gradually. When you start feeling better, stick to low-fiber foods at first. Try soda crackers, toast, eggs or rice.
  • Avoid certain foods. Dairy products, fatty foods, high-fiber foods or highly seasoned foods can make symptoms worse.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Review Date: March 10, 2017 | Last Modified: March 10, 2017

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