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Definition

Escherichia coli ( E. coli ) infection is caused by a bacteria. It is the leading cause of bloody diarrhea. This type of infection may need medical attention. Contact your doctor if you think you may have it.

Causes

This infection is caused by some types of the E. coli bacterium. 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

Factors that increase your chance of developing E. coli infection include:

  • Age: children and older people
  • People with another illness
  • Working with cattle
  • Living in northern states

Symptoms

Symptoms of E. coli infection include:

Diagnosis

Your doctor will ask 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 medicine 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
Kidney Dialysis
Dialysis pump
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If you are diagnosed with an E. coli infection, follow your doctor's instructions .

Prevention

To help prevent 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.

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: Peter Lucas, MD
  • Review Date: 12/2013 -
  • Update Date: 01/13/2014 -
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

    http://www.cdc.gov

  • National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

    http://www.niaid.nih.gov

  • Canadian Food Inspection Agency

    http://www.inspection.gc.ca

  • Public Health Agency of Canada

    http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca

  • E Coli infection. American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/common/digestive/disorders/242.html . Updated February 2011. Accessed March 20, 2013.

  • E. coli (Escherichia coli) . Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/ecoli/ . Accessed March 20, 2013.

  • Frequently asked questions about Escherichia Coli infection. New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services website. Available at: http://www.nj.gov/health/cd/documents/factsheets/f%5Fecoli.pdf . Accessed March 20, 2013.