In­fec­tious dis­eases A-Z: learn­ing about E. coli 101

The Hamilton Spectator - - HEALTH - MAYO CLINIC NEWS NET­WORK

E. coli in­fec­tions are a type of food­borne ill­ness that peaks dur­ing the sum­mer months, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ters for Disease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion (CDC).

Dr. Nipunie Ra­japakse, a pe­di­atric in­fec­tious dis­eases spe­cial­ist at Mayo Clinic, says there are many strains of E. coli bac­te­ria that may cause se­ri­ous ill­ness for those in­fected.

“E. coli stands for Escherichia coli, which is a type of bac­te­ria that can cause food or wa­ter-borne ill­ness in peo­ple,” says Ra­japakse. “It’s a rel­a­tively com­mon cause of ill­ness. There’s a type of E. coli that peo­ple may have heard of called O157: H7. It’s a spe­cific type of E. coli that can cause bloody di­ar­rhea and has been associated with a con­di­tion that can cause kid­ney dam­age es­pe­cially in young chil­dren.”

This form of kid­ney fail­ure that can be life-threat­en­ing is called hemolytic ure­mic syn­drome.


E. coli also can be found in the en­vi­ron­ment and in the in­testines of hu­mans and an­i­mals so con­tam­i­na­tion of food can oc­cur in mul­ti­ple ways.

“Cer­tain foods are at a higher risk for trans­mit­ting E. coli in­fec­tion,” says Ra­japakse. “Most com­monly, we hear about it in raw or un­der­cooked ham­burger meat. How­ever, any type of food that comes into con­tact with raw or un­der­cooked meat may lead to cross-con­tam­i­na­tion. Sal­ads, fruits and veg­eta­bles can trans­mit, as well, and we do oc­ca­sion­ally see out­breaks re­lated to those types of prod­ucts.”

Other foods car­ry­ing a high risk of E. coli in­fec­tion in­clude un­pas­teur­ized milk, un­pas­teur­ized ap­ple cider, and soft cheeses made from raw milk.


“E. coli gen­er­ally causes rel­a­tively mild ill­ness in oth­er­wise healthy peo­ple. But in cer­tain pop­u­la­tions, E. coli can cause se­vere ill­ness es­pe­cially in peo­ple who have weak­ened im­mune sys­tems, peo­ple who have un­der­ly­ing di­ges­tive sys­tem prob­lems, young chil­dren, the elderly, and preg­nant women,” says Ra­japakse.

An­tibi­otics should gen­er­ally not be used for treat­ment and in some cases may in­crease the risk of de­vel­op­ing hemolytic ure­mic syn­drome. Most peo­ple are bet­ter in about one week.

The CDC of­fers these tips to pre­vent E. coli ill­ness:

Wash your hands thor­oughly af­ter us­ing the bath­room or chang­ing di­a­pers and be­fore pre­par­ing or eat­ing food. Also, wash your hands thor­oughly af­ter con­tact with an­i­mals.

Cook meats thor­oughly. Ground beef and meat that has been nee­dle-ten­der­ized should be cooked to a tem­per­a­ture of at least 160 de­grees Fahren­heit.

Avoid raw milk, un­pas­teur­ized dairy prod­ucts and un­pas­teur­ized juices.

Avoid swal­low­ing wa­ter when swim­ming or play­ing in lakes, ponds, streams and swim­ming pools.

Pre­vent cross-con­tam­i­na­tion in food prepa­ra­tion ar­eas by thor­oughly wash­ing hands, counters, cut­ting boards and uten­sils af­ter they touch raw meat.


E. coli in­fec­tions peak dur­ing the sum­mer months.

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