Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center - Health Library

Escherichia coli Infection

(E. coli Infection, Escherichia coli O157:H7)

Definition

Escherichia coli (E. coli) infection is caused by a bacterium. It is the leading cause of bloody diarrhea.

Causes  ^

This infection is caused by some types of the E. coli bacteria. Most E. coli infections are caused by:

  • Eating undercooked beef, especially ground beef
  • Drinking contaminated water
  • Drinking unpasteurized milk
  • Working with cattle

Digestive Pathway Through Stomach and Intestines
Digestive pathway

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Risk Factors  ^

This condition is more common in children and older adults.

Other factors that increase your chances of an E. coli infection:

  • Contact with people with another illness
  • Working with cattle
  • Living in northern states

Symptoms  ^

Symptoms of E. coli infection include:

  • Abdominal cramps
  • Watery diarrhea
  • Dehydration
  • Fatigue
  • Bright red, bloody stools
  • Mild fever
  • Nausea or vomiting

Diagnosis  ^

You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Your waste material may be tested. This can be done with a stool culture.

Treatment  ^

Talk with your doctor about the best plan for you. Treatment options include:

Fluid Replacement and Monitoring

Most people will get better in 5-10 days. They rarely need a specific treatment. Avoid medication that stops diarrhea. Drink plenty of water and fluids. Fluids through an IV line may be needed in cases of severe dehydration.

Treatment for Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS)

HUS is a life-threatening condition. It occurs in some people with E. coli infection. HUS may need to be treated with blood transfusions and kidney dialysis. Symptoms may include:

  • Pale complexion, tiredness, and irritability
  • Small, unexplained bruises, or bleeding from the nose or mouth—caused by problems in the body’s clotting mechanism

Hemodialysis
Dialysis pump

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Prevention  ^

To help reduce your chances of an E. coli infection:

  • Cook all ground beef and hamburger thoroughly.
  • Avoid eating undercooked hamburger or other ground beef.
  • Keep raw meats separate from ready-to-eat foods.
  • Wash hands, counters, and utensils with hot soapy water after they are exposed to raw meat.
  • Drink only pasteurized milk, juice, and cider.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables under running water.
  • Drink municipal water that has been treated with a disinfectant.
  • Wash hands after bowel movements and after changing soiled diapers.
RESOURCES:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
https://www.cdc.gov

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
https://www.niaid.nih.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Food Inspection Agency
http://www.inspection.gc.ca

Public Health Agency of Canada
https://www.canada.ca

REFERENCES:

E. coli infection. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: https://familydoctor.org/condition/e-coli-infection. Updated April 2014. Accessed December 8, 2017.

E. coli (Escherichia coli). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/ecoli. Updated November 20, 2017. Accessed December 8, 2017.

Hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS). EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116202/Hemolytic-uremic-syndrome-HUS. Updated May 17, 2017. Accessed December 8, 2017.

Last reviewed December 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board David L. Horn, MD, FACP  Last Updated: 12/20/2014