E. coli is a type of bacteria that normally live in the intestines of people and animals. Proper food preparation and good hygiene can greatly decrease your chances of developing an intestinal infection.
Most cases of intestinal infection can be treated at home. Symptoms generally resolve within a few days to a week.
Symptoms can include:
• abdominal cramping
• sudden, severe watery diarrhea that may change to bloody stools
• loss of appetite/nausea
• vomiting (rare)
Symptoms of a severe E. coli infection may include:
• bloody urine
• decreased urine output
• pale skin
It can also happen that those infected develop hemolytic uremic syndrome, a condition in which the red blood cells are damaged. This can lead to kidney failure. This complication can be life-threatening, especially for children and the elderly.
Causes of E. coli infection:
• People and animals normally have some E. coli in their intestines, but some strains cause infection. The bacteria that cause infection can enter your body in a number of ways.
• failing to wash hands completely before preparing or eating food
• using utensils, cutting boards, or serving dishes that are not clean, causing cross-contamination
• consuming dairy products or food containing mayonnaise that have been left out too long
• consuming foods that have not been stored at the right temperature
• consuming foods that are not cooked to the right temperature, especially meats and poultry
• consuming raw seafood products
• drinking unpasteurized milk
• consuming raw produce that has not been properly washed
• Poor sanitation can cause water to contain bacteria from human or animal waste. You can get the infection from drinking contaminated water or from swimming in it.
• E. coli can spread when an infected person fails to wash his or her hands after having a bowel movement. The bacteria are then spread when that person touches someone or something else, like food.
When to see a doctor:
Intestinal infection can lead to dehydration and serious complications, such as kidney failure and sometimes death, if not treated. You should see your doctor if:
• You have had diarrhea that is not getting better after five days, or two days for an infant or child.
• You have a fever with diarrhea.
• Abdominal pain does not get better after a bowel movement.
• There is pus or blood in your stools.
• You have trouble keeping liquids down.
• Vomiting has continued for more than 12 hours.
• You have symptoms of dehydration, such as a lack of urine, extreme thirst, or dizziness.
In most cases, home care is all that is required to treat an E. coli infection. Drink plenty of water, get lots of rest, and keep an eye out for more severe symptoms. If dehydration is a concern, your doctor may order hospitalization and intravenous fluids. Most people show improvement within a week to 10 days after the onset of an infection and make a full recovery.