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Learning About E. Coli Infections

What is an E. coli infection?

E. coli (Escherichia coli) is the name of a germ, or bacterium, that lives in the digestive tracts of humans and animals. There are many types of E. coli, and most of them are harmless. But some can cause bloody diarrhea. Some strains of E. coli may also cause severe anemia or kidney failure, which can lead to death. Other strains can cause other infections.

How can you get an infection from E. coli?

A common type of E. coli infection causes bloody diarrhea and cramps. People in Canada most often get this infection by eating meat or other foods that have been infected with the bacteria.

What are the symptoms?

You may have symptoms like bloody diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea, and vomiting. Symptoms usually start 1 to 4 days after you came in contact with E. coli. But some people don't notice any symptoms. If the infection is more serious, you may have a fever or other symptoms.

How is it treated?

An E. coli infection usually goes away on its own. Your main treatment is to make yourself comfortable and drink sips of water. Diarrhea causes the body to lose more water than usual. This can lead to dehydration, which is especially dangerous for babies and older adults. Taking frequent, small sips of water will help prevent dehydration.

If you are not getting better, ask your doctor if you need treatment for E. coli. Some types of E. coli can be treated with antibiotics.

If you have bloody diarrhea that may be from an E. coli infection, don't take diarrhea medicine. These medicines can slow down the digestion process. This can allow more time for your body to absorb the poisons made by the E. coli.

In some people, the infection causes serious problems with the blood and kidneys. These people may need blood transfusions or dialysis.

How can you prevent an E. coli infection?

To prevent intestinal tract infections from E. coli:

  • Never eat raw or undercooked ground beef or pork. Cook ground meat to a temperature of at least 71° C (160° F) . 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.
  • Always wash cooking tools, cutting boards, dishes, countertops, and utensils with hot, soapy water right after they have come into contact with raw meat. Do not put cooked meat back onto a plate that has held raw meat unless you have thoroughly washed the plate.
  • Use separate cutting boards for raw meat and other food items.
  • Wash your hands often with hot, soapy water, especially after handling raw meat. Always wash your hands after bowel movements or changing diapers.
  • Dispose of soiled diapers and stools carefully.

Where can you learn more?

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