E coli is a common bacteria found inside people and animals. Most E coli strains are harmless. But certain strains of E coli are harmful and can cause severe illness. You can be infected by swallowing food or water that contain the bacteria. Contamination occurs when food or water comes in contact with stool from infected humans and animals. The foods that have been involved with E coli outbreaks include meat (especially ground beef), sprouts, lettuce, salami, and unpasteurized milk and juice.
Common Symptoms of E coli Infection
Symptoms often appear 2-5 days after ingestion of the contaminated food or drink. They include:
- Watery or bloody diarrhea
- Severe abdominal cramps
Diagnosing E coli Infection
A sample of your stool is checked for the presence of E coli. More than one stool sample may be needed.
Treating E coli Infection
E coli infection generally gets better without treatment in 8-10 days. Antibiotic medications are usually not helpful. Do not take antidiarrheal medication unless told to by a doctor. It can make the illness last longer and decrease the body's ability to get rid of E coli. While you are recovering, drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.
Call Your Healthcare Provider If You Have:
- No improvement in symptoms after 2 days
- Blood in stool
- Severe vomiting
- Severe abdominal pain
- Signs of dehydration (dry, sticky mouth; decreased urine output; very dark urine)
Preventing E coli Infection
Follow these steps to lessen the chances of getting or passing E coli infection:
- Cook meats well, especially ground beef, to prevent transmission of E coli.
- Wash your hands with soap and warm water often. Do this before preparing meals, and after going to the bathroom, changing diapers, or handling pets. Teach your child to do the same.
- Use a food thermometer when cooking. Cook poultry to at least 165°F. Cook pork and ground meats to at least 160°F. Cook beef or lamb to at least 145°F.
- Wash or peel produce before eating.
- Drink only pasteurized milk, juices, and ciders.
- Wash cutting boards and utensils with hot water and soap after each use. Clean kitchen counters with bleach or disinfectant.
- Don't swallow or drink water from pools, lakes, streams, or rivers. When camping, or traveling outside the country, avoid drinking or cooking with water unless you know it's safe. If you need to drink or cook with water you are not sure of, boil it for at least 60 seconds before using it.
- If you drink well water, have it tested once a year for germs, including E coli.