What Is E. Coli? Causes And Symptoms

What Is E. Coli? Causes And Symptoms

What Is E. Coli? Causes And Symptoms

What Is E. Coli? Causes And Symptoms – Escherichia coli (known as E. coli) is a group of bacteria that typically lives in the intestines of humans and animals and helps keep our guts healthy.  However, some types of E. coli, particularly E. coli O157:H7, can cause intestinal infection. E. coli O157:H7 and other strains that cause intestinal sickness are called Shiga toxin–producing E. coli (STEC) after the toxin that they produce. Certain types of the bacteria can occasionally cause severe illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In North America, the most common strain of STEC is E. coli O157:H7 (often shortened to E. coli O145, or simply O145). The CDC estimates that 265,000 Americans are infected with STEC per year, resulting in about 3,600 hospitalizations and 30 deaths.

Enterotoxigenic E. coli (ETEC) is one of the leading causes of “traveler’s diarrhea,” which is often contracted when travelers from developed regions visit less-developed regions, according to Emory University.

The CDC estimates that anywhere from 30 to 70 percent of travelers may be affected depending on the time of year and destination, with areas such as Latin America, Africa and Asia having the highest risk of travelers developing ETEC.

While E. coli can spread and enter the body in a variety of ways, about 85 percent of infections are from food, or water according to the University of California San Francisco.. Proper food preparation and good hygiene can greatly decrease your chances of developing an intestinal infection.

Also meat becomes contaminated when the bacteria is spread from the intestinal tract of the animal during butchering or processing. Fresh produce may also be contaminated with the bacteria if it enters the water source, such as with the 2018 outbreak of E. coli on romaine lettuce.

Causes E. Coli

Although E. coli can infect anyone, certain groups of people are more at risk for developing symptoms than others, including young children and older adults, and those with weakened immune systems or decreased stomach acid levels, according to the Mayo Clinic.

People and animals normally have some E. coli in their intestines, but some strains cause infection. The bacteria that cause infection can enter into your body in a number of ways. Pathogenic strains of E. coli can be ingested with contaminated food, such as undercooked ground beef, soft cheeses made from raw milk, fresh produce, grains or even contaminated beverages, including water, unpasteurized milk and fruit juices, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Infection can also occur after not carefully washing hands that have come in contact with animals (especially livestock), or people or surfaces that have been exposed to the harmful bacteria. Swimming in contaminated water may also lead to an E. coli infection, especially if any water was swallowed.

How Long Does E Coli Last

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 5 to 10 percent of those who are infected develop hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a condition in which the red blood cells are damaged. Symptoms of intestinal infection generally begin between 1 and 10 days after you’ve been infected with E. coli. This is known as the incubation period. Once symptoms appear, they usually last around 5 to 10 days.

Symptoms Of E Coli Virus

E.coli symptoms typically appear after consuming contaminated food or beverages, according to UCSF. Symptoms of intestinal infection include:

  • Sudden, severe watery diarrhea that may change to bloody stools
  • Gas
  • Loss of appetite or nausea
  • Vomiting (uncommon)
  • Fatigue
  • Abdominal pain
  • Fever.

More severe cases can lead to:

  • Dehydration
  • Kidney failure.
  • Bloody Urine
  • Decreased urine output
  • Pale skin
  • Bruising

Note to please call your doctor if you experience any of these severe symptoms. People with weakened immune systems, pregnant women, young children, and older adults are at increased risk for developing these complications.

Some infections can lead to hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a potentially life-threatening disease. HUS causes red blood cells to be destroyed and leads to kidney failure. An estimated 5 to 10 percent of people with STEC infection may develop HUS, according to the CDC. Symptoms include decreased frequency of urination, lethargy and losing pink color in cheeks and inside eyelids. Experts strongly advise seeking immediate medical treatment if any of those symptoms appear.

E. coli is also responsible for about 90 percent of urinary tract infections(UTI), according to UCSF. Symptoms of a UTI include a strong urge to urinate, a burning sensation when urinating and cloudy or strong-smelling urine, according to the Mayo Clinic. Women, especially those who are sexually active, are at a higher risk of developing a UTI because of the shorter length of the urethra and the close proximity of the urethra to the anus.

Diagnosis and E coli treatment

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 to be analyzed. Fortunately, the infection usually goes away on its own.

For some types of E.coli associated with diarrhea, such as the watery travelers’ diarrhea, antibiotics can shorten the length of time you have symptoms and might be used in moderately severe cases. E. coli infections aren’t typically treated with antibiotics unless the infection is outside the intestinal tract, such as with a UTI. Within the intestinal tract, though, “antibiotics may kill other beneficial bacteria in the gut, allowing more space and nutrients for the E. coli to grow,” said Sarah Fankhauser, a microbiologist at Oxford College of Emory University in Georgia.

Doctors also recommended against taking anti-diarrheal medication to treat the symptoms of the infection, as the medication can slow down the digestive system and prevent the body from removing the toxins produced by the E. coli. Instead, most adults who are otherwise healthy typically recover from the infection in about a week with rest and proper hydration.

Risk factors of e. Coli infection

While anyone can experience an E. coli infection, some people are more at risk than others. Some risk factors include:

  • Age: Older adults and young children are more likely to experience serious complications from E. coli.
  • A weakened immune system: People with weakened immune systems are more susceptible to E. coli infections.
  • Season: E. coli infections are more likely to occur during the summer months, June to September, for unknown reasons.
  • Low stomach acid levels: Medications used to decrease stomach acid levels can increase your risk of E. coli infection.
  • Certain foods: Drinking unpasteurized milk or juices and eating undercooked meat can increase your risk of E. coli.

Prevention E. coli

There are several ways that harmful E. coli infections can be prevented, according to UCSF:

  • Regularly and thoroughly wash hands with soap and hot water after using the bathroom, changing diapers, coming in contact with infected persons, before handling or eating food and after coming into contact with farm animals.
  • Properly washing fresh produce, cooking meats to safe internal temperatures, safely storing food in the refrigerator or freezer and thawing food in the refrigerator or microwave.
  • Keep food preparation areas clean by using hot, soapy water or disinfectant to wash hands, counters, cutting boards, utensils and anything else that may have come into contact with raw meat. Always keep raw meat separate from cooked meat and other foods.
  • Drink and eat pasteurized products, including milk, juice and cheese.
  • Avoid swallowing water when swimming in a pool, lake or other body of water.
  • Those with diarrhea should avoid swimmingin public areas, sharing a bathroom or preparing food for others to avoid spreading the infection.

A 2018 study published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation found that the severity of symptoms caused by an E. coli infection is related to a person’s blood type. Another team of researchers in the U.S. and Europe has made progress in developing a vaccine for preventing UTIs caused by E. coli. The group’s preliminary 2017 study, published in the journal The Lancet Infectious Diseases, demonstrated that their vaccine was safe and effectively reduced the number of UTIs in more than 30 female patients.

Additional resources for further Finding of E. Coli:



This article on "Hkitnob: Health Columns" is for informational purposes only, and is not meant to offer medical advice.