Learn About E. coli Infection
What are Shiga toxin-producing E. coli?
- Most common type of STEC: The most commonly identified STEC infections in North America are E. coli O157:H7 (often shortened to E. coli O157 or even just "O157"). When you hear news reports about outbreaks of "E. coli" infections, they are usually talking aboutE. coli O157.
- Other groups of STEC: Other groups of E. coli in the STEC pathotype are sometimes called "non-O157 STECs."
Concerns about non-O157 STECs
- Public health surveillance data on the occurrence of non-O157 STECs is improving; many non-O157 STEC infections go undiagnosed or unreported.
- Identifying non-O157 STEC infections is more complex than identifying those from STEC O157.
- First, clinical laboratories must test stool samples for the presence of Shiga toxins (the number of laboratories performing these tests has increased greatly).
- Then, the positive samples must be sent to public health laboratories to look for non-O157 STEC.
- The most common non-O157 STEC serogroups that cause illness in people in the United States are O26, O45, O103, O111, O121, and O145.
About the Illness
- People usually get sick from STEC within 2 to 8 days after swallowing the organism.
- Most people develop diarrhea (often bloody) and abdominal cramps.
- Most illnesses resolve on their own within 7 days. Some illnesses last longer and can be more severe.
- Most people recover within a week but, rarely, people with severe infection may be sick for a long time.
- Postdiarrheal hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a type of kidney failure, can begin as the diarrhea is improving. HUS can occur in people of any age but is most common in children under 5 years old and the elderly.
Some people are more at risk for infection from E. coli and other germs
- E.coli can be deadly for some: Escherichia coli O157:H7 and other STEC strains cause bacterial gastrointestinal illness in the United States that can be severe, especially in young children and the elderly.
- Hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS): HUS can occur in people of any age but is most common in children under 5 years old and the elderly. Overall, HUS occurs in about 6% of patients of all ages with E. coli O157 infection and in about 15% of children under 5 with this infection. HUS occurs less commonly with other STEC infections.
To best protect yourself against E. coli infections
- Know your risk of food poisoning. People at higher risk for foodborne illness are pregnant women and newborns, children, older adults, and those with weak immune systems.
- Consult your healthcare provider if you think you might be ill with E. coli infection.
- Practice proper hygiene, especially good hand washing
- Wash your hands thoroughly after using the bathroom, changing diapers, and before preparing or eating food.
- Wash your hands after contact with animals or their environments (at farms, petting zoos, fairs, even your own backyard).
- Always wash your hands before preparing and feeding bottles or foods to an infant, before touching an infant's mouth, and before touching pacifiers or other things that go into an infant's mouth.
- Keep all objects that enter infants' mouths (such as pacifiers and teethers) clean.
- If soap and water aren't available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. These alcohol-based products can quickly reduce the number of germs on hands in some situations, but they are not a substitute for washing with soap and running water.
- Follow clean, separate, cook, chill guidelines, which can be found at FoodSafety.gov
- Cook meats thoroughly. Ground beef and meat that has been needle-tenderized should be cooked to a temperature of at least 160°F (70˚C). Use a thermometer to verify the temperature, as color is not a very reliable indicator of how thoroughly meat has been cooked.
- Prevent cross-contamination in food preparation areas by thoroughly washing hands, counters, cutting boards, and utensils after they touch raw meat.
- Avoid consuming raw milk, unpasteurized dairy products, and unpasteurized juices (like fresh apple cider).
- Avoid swallowing water when swimming and when playing in lakes, ponds, streams, swimming pools, and backyard "kiddie" pools.
- Please see the FoodSafety.gov page on E. coli to learn more information about E. coli and how to prevent infection.