Recent news about E. coli outbreaks serves as a reminder to take precautions against this bacteria that can cause illness in humans, especially during the summer months. Although the most notable current E.coli outbreak has been linked to romaine lettuce, this bacteria can be found in a variety of sources.
E. coli are common bacteria which can be spread to people when tiny pieces of feces enter the mouth through unwashed hands; contaminated soil, water, and food. Sources of infection include under-cooked meat, unpasteurized dairy products, infected animals, and manure. Most types of E. coli are harmless, but some strains are harmful to humans.
Health officials continue to encourage following the practices listed below to help prevent infection from E. coli and other diseases:
- Keep sick animals separated from people and consider consulting a veterinarian
- Wash your hands with warm, soapy water
- After contact with animals or exposure to animal feces
- Before and after preparing or eating food
- After using the bathroom and changing diapers
- Before touching anything that enters an infant’s mouth
- Wash produce thoroughly
- Keep raw food separate from cooked food
- Carefully clean all surfaces and objects that have touched raw meat
- Cook meats thoroughly. Ground beef should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees (use a meat thermometer)
For more information about E. coli and preventing infection, visit: cdc.gov/ecoli/general
Here is more detailed information about E. coli:
What is E. coli and how is it spread?
- Escherichia coli (E. coli) are bacteria commonly found in the environment, foods, and the feces of people and animals.
- E. coli can be spread through unwashed hands, contaminated food (like undercooked ground beef or unpasteurized food), water, animal exposure, and soil (where it can remain for several months).
- People can become infected when they swallow tiny particles of infected human or animal feces which contain E. coli
What happens if people are infected?
- Most types of E. coli are harmless, but some strains can make people sick.
- The type involved in this outbreak is called E. coli O157:H7.
- Symptoms usually begin 3-4 days after exposure to the bacteria and include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea (often bloody), and vomiting.
- Most people recover within a week without treatment. Some people with E. coli O157:H7 develop a life-threatening complication called Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS), which can cause kidney failure.
- HUS is more common in children younger than 5 years of age and older adults, although people any age can be affected.
When should people seek medical care?
- Contact your healthcare provider if you have diarrhea that lasts for more than three days or is accompanied by fever, blood in the stool, or severe vomiting.
- Seek emergency medical care if you experience any of these HUS symptoms following a diarrheal illness: urinating less often; fatigue; pale skin; or small, unexplained bruises or bleeding from the nose and mouth.
How can E. coli infection be prevented?
- Always wash your hands with warm, soapy water
- Before and after preparing or eating food.
- After using the bathroom and changing diapers.
- After contact with animals or their environments where there is exposure to animal feces.
- Before preparing or touching anything that enters an infant’s mouth.
- Use hand-sanitizer if soap and water is not available.
- Don’t allow raw food to touch cooked food. Don’t use the same cutting board or plate. Carefully clean countertops, dishes, and utensils which have touched raw meat with hot, soapy water.
- Cook meats thoroughly. Ground beef should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Pork should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees. Use a meat thermometer.
- Avoid raw (unpasteurized) milk and unpasteurized dairy products/juices.
- Don’t swallow water when swimming