Health Information and Tools > Patient Care Handouts >  Learning About E. Coli Infections
Facebook Tweet Email Share

Main Content

Learning About E. Coli Infections

What is E. coli?

E. coli is the name of a germ, or bacterium, that lives in your intestines. There are many types of E. coli, and most of them are harmless and don't cause problems. But other types of E. coli can cause illness.

Some types of E. coli, including E. coli O157:H7, can cause bloody diarrhea and cramps.

Some other types of E. coli can cause urinary tract infections or other infections. A urinary tract infection is an infection anywhere along the path between the kidneys and the urethra (where urine comes out of your body).

How can you get an infection from E. coli?

E. coli in your urine or blood

Sometimes E. coli that is normally harmless gets into parts of your body where it's not supposed to be, such as your urine or blood. This can cause an infection, such as a urinary tract infection or a blood infection.

A urinary tract infection often remains in the bladder, but the infection can sometimes spread to the kidneys and blood. This condition is very serious.

Usually, germs get into your system through your urethra, the tube that carries urine from your bladder to the outside of your body. The bacteria that usually cause these infections live in your large intestine and are found in your stool.

Women tend to get more bladder infections than men do. This is probably because a woman has a shorter urethra, so it is easier for the bacteria to move up to the bladder. Having sex can make it easier for germs to get into your urethra.

E. coli from food

People in Canada most often get an infection from E. coli that causes bloody diarrhea and cramps by eating meat or other foods that have been contaminated with the bacteria.

What are the symptoms?

If E. coli causes an infection in the urinary tract, you may have symptoms like:

  • Pain or burning when you urinate.
  • Having to urinate often, but not much urine comes out when you do.
  • An uncomfortable or heavy feeling in your lower belly.
  • Urine that is cloudy or smells bad.
  • Pain on one side of your back under your ribs. This is where your kidneys are.

If you get the E. coli O157:H7 infection from food, you may have symptoms like:

  • Bloody diarrhea.
  • Stomach cramps.
  • Nausea and vomiting.

E. coli in the blood can cause a serious blood infection.

How can you treat an E. coli infection?

An E. coli infection of the urinary tract or blood is treated with antibiotics. For a blood infection, the antibiotics are usually given through a vein (intravenously, or IV).

An infection from types of E. coli that cause bloody diarrhea and cramps, such as E. coli O157:H7, is usually treated with fluids to help you stay hydrated. And you may get other medical care. Antibiotics aren't typically used to treat this kind of E. coli.

How can you prevent an E. coli infection?

To prevent urinary tract infections from E. coli

  • Drink plenty of fluids, enough so that your urine is light yellow or clear like water. If you have kidney, heart, or liver disease and have to limit fluids, talk with your doctor before you increase the amount of fluids you drink.
  • Urinate when you need to.

Tips for women:

  • Urinate right after you have sex.
  • Change sanitary pads often.
  • After going to the restroom, wipe from front to back.

To prevent intestinal tract infection from E. coli

  • Never eat raw or undercooked ground beef. Cook beef to a temperature of at least 71°C. Always use a meat thermometer. Ground beef should be cooked until all pink colour is gone.
  • Cut open restaurant and home-cooked hamburgers to make sure that they have been completely cooked. The juices should be clear or yellowish, with no trace of pink.
  • When preparing food, wash your hands often with hot, soapy water, especially after handling raw meat.
  • Use separate cutting boards for raw meat and other food items.

Where can you learn more?

Go to

Enter Y224 in the search box to learn more about "Learning About E. Coli Infections".

Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.