E Coli Infection, Symptoms and Sources of Infection

E coli (Escherichia coli) live normally in human and animal intestine as harmless and beneficial commensal. However, some strains of E. coli are pathogenic such as E. coli O157:H7, which can cause severe abdominal cramps, bloody diarrhea and vomiting. One may get E. coli infection by contaminated food (such as raw vegetables used as salad or under-cooked meat such as beef) or drink (by drinking unsafe water). Healthy adults generally recover from E. coli infection within a week, but children and aged individuals may take much longer and even may be life threatening.

Potential sources of E. coli infection:

  • Beef: E. coli bacteria can get into beef from intestine of cattle. If this meat/beef is consumed undercooked the E. coli bacteria may remain and cause infection. This is a common source of infection in developed/industrial nations.
  • Drinking water: if drinking water supply is not safe, as is prevalent in developing and poor nations, E. coli may be present in drinking water and infect people. This is why E. coli diarrhea is so common in poor regions of the world. In developing and poor countries water is the commonest source of E. coli infection.
  • Unpasteurized milk: this is another source of E. coli. If milk is not pasteurized E. coli may remain in the milk, which may lead to infection when consumed without boiling.

  • Raw vegetables: vegetables that are grown in fields fertilized or irrigated with water used in cattle farms may contain the bacteria and infect people. When people eat raw vegetables as salad, without proper cleaning/washing, E. coli may infect the person.
  • Personal contact: one may get E. coli infection by personal contact. If a person is suffering from E. coli infection and does not wash hands properly he/she may transmit the infection, especially to family members. Sometimes even small outbreaks of E. coli infection may occur due to personal contact.

What are the symptoms of E. coli infection?

Patient generally develop symptoms of E. coli infection three or four days after getting exposed to E. coli. However symptoms of E. coli infection may start even one day after the exposure or may take more than a week after exposure to develop symptoms. Symptoms of E. coli infection include

  • Diarrhea: E. coli diarrhea may be mild and watery. Sometimes the diarrhea may be severe and bloody and need prompt and proper medical intervention, especially among aged and children.
  • Abdominal pain, cramp or abdominal tenderness may accompany diarrhea.
  • Diarrhea may be accompanied by nausea and/or vomiting

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