Escherichia coli, better known as E coli, is a rod shaped bacterium. Most strains of the bacterium are harmless.They are present in the lower intestine of humans as a part of the bacterial flora in the gut. However, some strains of E coli are extremely harmful for the health.
E coli infections occur by consuming food and water contaminated with the bacteria. Infections caused by mutant strains with lethal genes could be fatal. The recent e coli outbreak in Europe that affected a large number of people in twelve countries is attributed to a new mutated strain that produces the deadly shiga toxin.
The virulent strains of e coli are a common cause of diarrhea. In the worst case, the harmful e coli strains cause hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which eventually leads to kidney failure and death.
How Do You Get E Coli?
E coli infection is primarily a food borne disease. It is transmitted by consuming contaminated food and water. Occasionally it is transmitted through person-to-person contract.
Food contaminated with the e coli bacteria is the common cause of e coli infections. For instance, vegetables including lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes and bean sprouts obtained from the organic farms of Germany are believed to be responsible for the recent e coli outbreak in Europe that claimed at least eighteen lives.
Consuming foods, especially raw vegetables and fruits, contaminated with the waste of cattle suffering from e coli infection is the main cause of e coli infection. Unpasteurized fruit juices and unpasteurized fruit vinegars including apple cider vinegar contaminated with the virulent bacteria could cause e coli infections.
Bovine products are also a common source of the harmful e coli bacteria. You might contract the bacterial infection by eating undercooked beef, pork, lamb, poultry and salami or by drinking unpasteurized milk. Even consuming food that has been exposed to meat contaminated with e coli bacteria can be a cause of the harmful bacterial infection.
Drinking water contaminated with the feces of diseased humans or animals could spread e coli infection. You might develop e coli infection by accidentally swallowing the contaminated water while swimming in pools, lakes or irrigation canals.
Occasionally e coli infection spreads through physical contact. It occurs when a person suffering from e coli infection fails to wash his or her hands properly after defecation. The bacteria spreads when the person infected with e coli touches any object or another person with the unclean hands.
Symptoms Of E coli Infection
Bloody diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and abdominal cramps are the common symptoms of e coli infection. Children are more vulnerable than adults are to e coli infections. The symptoms of the bacterial infection appear three to four days after the harmful bacteria enters the gastrointestinal gut. Mild symptoms of e coli infection usually heal naturally. In most cases, the symptoms last for about a week.
Severe e coli infections could cause hemorrhagic colitis. Hemolytic uremic syndrome might develop in about five to ten percent people infected with the shiga toxin producing e coli bacteria. Almost five percent hemolytic uremic syndrome patients, mostly children, succumb to renal failure.
Up to thirty percent patients develop some form of chronic kidney disease. After entering the bloodstream, the toxins released by the virulent e coli strain destroy the red blood cells and the platelets. Pale skin, bruising, weakness and fever are common signs of hemolytic uremic syndrome.
Destruction of platelets impairs blood clotting, leading to unexplained bleeding from the mouth and nose and bruising. You might notice the symptoms of hemolytic uremic syndrome a week after the digestive symptoms of the bacterial infection develop.
Hemolytic uremic syndrome is a common cause of acute kidney failure. The damaged red blood cells accumulate in the tiny blood vessels of the kidneys. As a result, the kidneys could not work properly. They are forced to work harder to flush out the wastes from the body.
Passing very small amount of urine is a common sign of kidney failure. Accumulation of excess fluid results in swelling of feet, hands, face or entire body owing to water retention. It boosts the blood pressure level. Although hemolytic uremic syndrome is a serious kidney disorder that needs prompt medical attention, with proper treatment most patients survive the ailment without permanent kidney damage.
How To Prevent E coli
Fortunately, e coli infections could be prevented. Avoiding raw and undercooked foods could protect you from the bacterial infection. The e coli bacteria do not alter the appearance, texture or flavor of vegetables, fruits, milk and meat products. Even the freshest vegetables and meat in your grocery store might by the source of e coli bacteria.
Hence, to avoid e coli infection, always consume well-cooked vegetables and meat. Cook all types of meat products, especially beef, at least at 70-degree Celsius temperature. To avoid food poisoning, peel fruits before eating them.
Drink only pasteurized milk and consume dairy products made with pasteurized milk. Consume pasteurized juices. Drink water treated with chlorine. While traveling, avoid ice and do not drink tap water.
Wash your hands with soap and water after touching raw meat. Properly clean your kitchen appliances and surfaces that have come in contact with raw meat with detergent and water. Wash your hands with soap and water every time you use the toilet or change the diaper of your baby. Use an antibacterial cleaner for cleaning toilets and sinks. Avoid swimming in unclean pools.
E coli Treatments
Restoring the normal salt and fluid balance in the body is the primary objective of e coli infection. People with e coli infection should drink plenty of fluid throughout the day. Excess loss of water through diarrhea and vomiting might worsen your discomfort.
Although this is a form of bacterial infection, to prevent further complications e coli patients suffering from bloody diarrhea should avoid antibiotics and diarrhea drugs. By slowing down the digestion speed, these medicines expose the gastrointestinal tract to the toxins for a longer time, giving the body enough time to absorb the toxins linked to hemolytic uremic syndrome.