Understanding E. coli
Escherichia coli or E. coli is the name of a group of bacteria that can be found in your intestines. Some types of E. coli are harmless, while others can make you very, very sick. Although E. coli can have many sources, the most common source of infection is undercooked, contaminated ground beef.
It is estimated by the CDC that 265,000 infections from E. coli occur each year. About 36 percent of these infections are caused by E. coli O157:H7, while the other 64 percent of infections is caused by various other strains of E. coli. These estimates of infection rates may be low, though, due to the fact that many cases of E. coli infection go unreported.
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Famous Outbreak: 60 people are reported to have been sickened by Chipotle’s 2015 E. Coli outbreak. This outbreak occurred in twelve states, from October to November, 2015. According to Chipotle, they have been unable to pinpoint the ingredient source that caused the contamination.
Signs and Symptoms
The symptoms of E. coli usually manifest three or four days after contact with the bacterium. Remember this: Knowing when foodborne illnesses first manifest, and how long they last, is the key to discerning which foodborne illness you have, and what food product caused it. (This is true, by the way, for every single foodborne illness.)
That being said, in most people, the illness lasts two to 10 days.
The symptoms of E. coli poisoning include:
- Bloody Diarrhea
- Stomach Cramps
- Nausea and Vomiting
About five to 10 percent of E. coli cases develop a potentially life-threatening complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome, or “HUS.” The symptoms of HUS include: Decreased frequency of urination, fatigue and the loss of the pink color in cheeks, and even inside the lower eyelids. People exhibiting these symptoms should be taken to a hospital immediately as HUS can cause the kidneys to stop working or even be deadly.
WARNING: Young children, the elderly, and those with suppressed immune systems are more likely to be infected with E. coli. However, E. coli infections can happen to anyone. Very young children and the elderly are more likely to develop hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). For symptoms of HUS, see the Symptoms and Treatment section.
If infected with E. coli, be sure to drink plenty of fluids and rest. If enough fluids cannot be consumed to avoid dehydration, contact a medical professional.
By taking necessary steps, many E. coli infections can be avoided. Simple actions like preventing cross contamination and avoiding raw milk can greatly reduce the chance of infection.
The most common source of E. coli infection can be found in ground beef. By ensuring that the meat reaches a temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit while cooking, chances of infection can be reduced tremendously. Practicing correct hand washing techniques can prevent cross contamination, further reducing the chances of infection.