E. Coli

What is E. Coli?
E. Coli is a group of bacteria. Although most strains of E. Coli are harmless, other can make you sick. Some kinds can cause diarrhea, others can cause respiratory illness and pneumonia, urinary tract infections and other illnesses. Some kinds of E. Coli cause disease by making a toxin called Shiga toxin. The bacteria that make these toxins are called “Shiga toxin-producing” E. Coli or STEC for short.

Who can become ill?
Anyone who is exposed to E. Coli bacteria can become ill. Very young children and the elderly are more likely to develop severe illness, but even healthy older children and young adults can become seriously ill.

How do I know if I have Shiga toxin-producing E. Coli?
Symptoms include diarrhea (often bloody) and stomach cramps. Most people get better within 5-7 days. Some infections are very mild, while others are severe or even life-threatening.

How soon do people get sick after being exposed to Shiga toxin-producing E. Coli?
People usually become ill 3-4 days after being exposed.

When should I call my doctor?
Call your healthcare provider if you have diarrhea that lasts for more than 3 days, or is accompanied by a high fever, bloody diarrhea, or so much vomiting that you cannot keep liquids down and you pass very little urine.

How is Shiga toxin-producing E. Coli treated?
Hydration is very important. Antibiotics should not be used to treat this infection, taking antibiotics may increase risk for complications. Antidiarrheal agents like Imodium may also increase the risk of complications.

How can Shiga toxin-producing E. Coli infections be prevented?

  • WASH YOUR HANDS thoroughly after using the bathroom or changing diapers and before preparing or eating food. WASH YOUR HANDS after contact with animals or their environments (at farms, petting zoos, fairs, even your own backyard).
  • COOK meats thoroughly. Ground beef and meat that has been needle-tenderized should be cooked to a temperature of at least 160°F/70˚C. It’s best to use a thermometer, as color is not a very reliable indicator of “doneness.”
  • AVOID raw milk, unpasteurized dairy products, and unpasteurized juices (like fresh apple cider).
  • AVOID swallowing water when swimming or playing in lakes, ponds, streams, swimming pools, and backyard “kiddie” pools.
  • PREVENT cross contamination in food preparation areas by thoroughly washing hands, counters, cutting boards, and utensils after they touch raw meat. To learn more about how to protect yourself from E. coli, see CDC’s feature, E. coli Infection.

Where can I find more information about E. Coli?