E. Coli: symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment


Escherichia coli (E. coli) are bacteria found in the environment, animals, and humans. Many strains of E. coli are harmless, but some can cause mild to severe illness. Very often, E. coli can cause intestinal infections that cause diarrhea, but it can also cause urinary tract infections , pneumonia, blood infections, and other illnesses.

Most pathogenic (disease-causing) Escherichia coli live in the gastrointestinal tract of animals such as cattle, goats, deer, and elk. They do not cause disease in animals, but when they enter the environment through the feces of these animals, they can contaminate the food we eat, causing various symptoms. They can also infect beef when animals are slaughtered.

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The most common type of E. coli that causes disease is shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC). Common symptoms of gastrointestinal (GI) disease caused by STEC are:

  • Diarrhea (may have blood)
  • Stomach cramps
  • Threw up
  • Sometimes a mild fever (usually no more than 101 degrees Fahrenheit)

Symptoms usually last five to seven days and can range from mild to severe. The incubation period for STEC is typically three to four days, but can range from 24 hours to 10 days. The incubation period is defined as the time between exposure to microbes and the appearance of symptoms.

E. coli, which produces the shiga toxin, is the culprit in many foodborne illness outbreaks. The bacteria can live in the digestive tracts of animals and then spread to foods that humans eat (such as leafy greens) when manure is used as fertilizer or in water used to irrigate fields. When an outbreak of STEC occurs due to contaminated food, it can be a widespread disease in communities.

Hemolytic uremic syndrome

One of the most serious complications of E. coli infection is hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) . It occurs when kidney function deteriorates due to a disease of the gastrointestinal tract. It occurs in 5-10% of people with STEC infections .

HUS patients are often hospitalized because the kidneys can stop working completely, which can be life-threatening. People who develop HUS usually recover within a few weeks, but this can be fatal if not treated properly.


If you have symptoms of the stomach flu, your doctor may perform a small test to determine the cause. Although gastrointestinal infections usually clear up on their own, your doctor may order stool samples if your symptoms are unusual, such as mucus and / or bloody appearance, or last more than a few days. Stool tests (also called stool) can sometimes identify the specific germ that is causing the symptoms. Most laboratories can analyze and identify the E. coli that produces the shiga toxin.

Watch out

There are no medications that can be taken for E. coli from the gastrointestinal tract. Antibiotics are not helpful in treating this infection, and their use can increase the chance of developing HUS .

If you have symptoms of an E. coli infection, it is important to stay hydrated. Supportive therapy to reduce the likelihood of dehydration is essential. If you have bloody stools, vomiting so strong that you cannot keep fluids down, or have a high fever, see your doctor or get medical help right away.

If E. coli is the cause of another type of infection, such as a urinary tract infection, a blood infection, or a respiratory infection, your treatment will most likely include antibiotics. Because these types of E. coli infections are less common, your healthcare provider must be actively involved in managing your treatment and choosing the appropriate treatment.


E. coli is transmitted by the fecal-oral route, which means that small particles of feces containing E. coli enter the human body, usually through food or water, and then become ill. While it sounds disgusting, it is quite common and is the way most foodborne illnesses spread .

Hand washing is very important to control the spread of E. coli. Washing them after using the bathroom, changing diapers, before and after cooking (especially raw meat), and after contact with animals is the best way to prevent the spread of the disease.

Health officials believe that unpasteurized milk, "raw" or unpasteurized cheese, and raw minced or needle-minced meat pose a high risk of spreading E. coli infections. Raw meat should be cooked to a safe temperature to ensure bacteria are killed, and raw or unpasteurized dairy products should not be consumed at all to reduce the risk of contracting E. coli and other foodborne illnesses .

You should also avoid swallowing water in areas that may be infected with E. coli, such as swimming pools, wading pools, lakes, streams, and ponds. There have also been cases of E. coli outbreaks in public water parks, so try not to swallow water in places like this, where there are a lot of people in the water and hygiene habits can be questionable.

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Outbreaks of E. coli can happen anywhere and affect anyone. Practicing good hand hygiene and preparing food can reduce the risk of spreading bacteria and infecting others. Although E. coli can be serious and many people fear the infection, in most cases it clears up on its own within a few days and does not require further treatment. If you have symptoms that bother you, it is always best to check with your doctor to find out what is best for you.

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