Fact Sheet: What is E.coli?

ecoli 656x100

What is E.coli?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, Escherichia coli (abbreviated as E. coli) are bacteria found in the environment, foods, and intestines of people and animals. E. coli are a large and diverse group of bacteria. Although most strains of E. coli are harmless, others can make you sick. Some kinds of E. coli can cause diarrhea while others cause urinary tract infections, respiratory illness and pneumonia, and other illnesses.

Most E.coli bacteria are a harmless part of a human’s intestinal tracts. However, according to the CDC, some are pathogenic, meaning they can cause illness. The most common associated with foodborne outbreaks are Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC).

How is E.coli spread?

generic-hamburger-raw-istock-resizedInfections start when you swallow STEC — in other words when you get tiny (usually invisible) amounts of human or animal feces in your mouth. That exposure can happen various ways, including eating food made by someone who did not properly wash hands after using the toilet, eating undercooked meat, drinking unpasteurized milk that came in contact with cattle feces, touching the environment at a petting zoos, or even swallowing water at a lake, stream or swimming pool.

The time between ingesting the STEC bacteria and feeling sick is called the “incubation period.” The incubation period is usually 3-4 days after the exposure, but may be as short as 1 day or as long as 10 days.

What are the symptoms?

generic female stomach acheThe symptoms of STEC infections vary for each person but often include;

  • Severe stomach cramps
  • Diarrhea (often bloody)
  • Vomiting

If there is fever, it usually is not very high (less than 101˚F). The CDC said most people get better within five to seven days. Some infections are very mild, but others are severe or even life-threatening. The very young, very old and those with weakened immune systems are most at risk of foodborne illness.

How can infections be prevented?

While most people are at some risk of contracting STEC, according to the CDC, there are ways to decrease the chances of becoming ill.Image (1) handwash.jpg for post 71779

What if I get sick?

If you suspect you’ve become sick by eating contaminated food, contact the RI Department of Health.

Health officials will want at three-day food history, so they are able to track down a potential outbreak.

Comments are closed.