What is E.coli? E. coli is an abbreviation for Escherichia coli. It’s a group of bacteria with many different strains and variations. E. coli is usually found in the intestines of humans and other warm blooded animals. When is E.coli OK for us? Most strains of E. coli are harmless, and among the normal bacteria found in the intestine to make vitamins and reduce harmful bacteria. Even some of the more harmful strains of E. coli cause only mild symptoms. Some strains, however, can cause more severe symptoms and lead to urinary tract infections, respiratory infections, and pneumonia. When Does E.coli become harmful? One of the strains that causes serious food poisoning is serotype 0157:H7. It’s found most often in raw sprouts,lettuce, and the meat of infected animals. The bacteria produces the Shiga toxin, which can cause kidney failure and even death, especially in children, the elderly, and others with weakened immune systems. Most of the widely publicized mass outbreaks of E. coli in the United States and abroad were caused by the 0157:H7 strain. The epidemics caused many hospitalizations and deaths, leading to massive wrongful death claims and millions of dollars in legal settlements for the companies involved. E. coli 0157:H7 infection occurs from eating or drinking contaminated foods. Some of the most common culprits are unwashed vegetables, unpasteurized juices, raw milk and meat products. The ground meat used in hamburgers and other products is contaminated when E. coli from the cow’s intestines get mixed with the meat. If not cooked properly, the bacteria will infect humans who eat the meat. Crops can be contaminated when they are fertilized with manure or irrigated with water that that contains E. coli bacteria. What Are the Symptoms? Symptoms of E. coli poisoning begin around seven days after infection. It starts with severe cramps and watery diarrhea that eventually leads to bloody diarrhea. Other symptoms like fever, nausea and vomiting may be present. Symptoms last for around a week. There is no antibiotic to cure E. coli infection. Treatment includes hydration, including hospitalization with IV fluids for severe dehydration. There are several ways to reduce the risk of acquiring E. coli 0157:H7. They include:
  • Wash hands before and after handling food
  • Cook meat thoroughly
  • Avoid raw milk, unpasteurized dairy products and juices
  • Don’t swallow water from lakes, ponds, streams or swimming pools
  • Thoroughly wash anything that touches raw meat, including counters, cutting boards and utensils
For more information about E. coli, see:
  • Centers for Disease Control: lists previous outbreaks as well as general information about E. coli.
  • FindLaw: legal information related to food poisoning, including information on submitting personal injury and wrongful death claims.
  • Food and Drug Administration: Detailed information about E. coli. It includes information about common foods that carry the bacterium, population affected, and frequency of the disease.
  • MSNBC: A history of E. coli cases that includes a timeline and map.
  • Family Doctor: Details about E. coli, including symptoms and prevention methods.
  • News Inferno, WedMD, History Link, CNN: historical articles about past E. coli outbreaks, including the Taco Bell, Jack in the Box, and Nestle cookie dough outbreaks.
Although E. coli can be deadly, it is easy to prevent by practicing safe hygiene and food preparation methods. Symptoms usually resolve on their own and in most cases do not lead to severe complications.