Bacteria are everywhere. Some, actually, are produced and reside in our own bodies. But don’t panic yet. Bacteria come in good and bad varieties, and they can be both helpful or harmful to our own bodies. In fact, in our bodies, the largest concentration of bacteria is found in our intestines. A bacterium that you’ve probably heard of, and fuzzed about, is the Escherichia Coli, more commonly known as the E. Coli. Contrary to what’s known, most strains of E. Coli, are actually harmless. These harmless strains produce Vitamin K2 which helps reduces the production of the bacteria that usually causes infection, specially in the intestines. Some E. Coli strains, though, can cause intestinal, urinary-genital infections, respiratory diseases, pneumonia, and other illnesses.
An E. Coli strain called Enterotoxigenic E.Coli (ETEC) can cause diarrhea. It produces a toxin similar to the cholera toxin, and can commonly contaminate food and water in developing countries. It can be transmitted by contaminated water and any contact with infected animal or individual.
The more dangerous type called Enterohemorrhagic E. Coli or EHEC can cause bloody diarrhea, severe anemia and can lead to kidney failure.
A healthy adult will usually make a full recovery from this strain’s infection within 5 to 7 days. However, young children, elderly individuals and patients with weakened immune systems can develop HUS (hemolytic uremic syndrome), a type of kidney failure, and may die of it.
How is E. coli bacteria and its toxin are transmitted?
E. coli is directly transmitted by coming into contact with the feces, or stool, of humans or animals. It can contaminate meat during processing. If the infected meat is not cooked to160°F (71°C), E. Coli can survive and infect you when you eat the meat. In the US, this is how people commonly get infected. Any food that has been in contact with infected raw meat can also become infected.
Raw milk can be E. Coli-contaminated if the cow’s or animal’s udders are contaminated with bacteria. Always opt for pasteurized milk as this means that the food has been heated to destroy bacteria. If you’re fond of eating fresh fruits and raw vegetables such as lettuce, alfalfa sprouts and unpasteurized apple cider, ensure that you know where they came from to be assured that they have not been in contact with any contaminants.
E-coli infected human and animal feces can sometimes get into lakes, pools, and water supplies.People can become infected from water sources that are not properly treated with chlorine or when they accidentally swallow contaminated water while swimming in a lake, pool, or irrigation canal
The bacteria can also spread from one person to another when an infected person does not wash his or her hands well after defecation. E. Coli can easily spread from an infected person’s hands to other people and even inanimated objects.
What are the signs that you could be infected?
E. coli infection shows two to five days after the being exposed to it. Common symptoms are nausea, severe abdominal cramps, watery and very bloody diarrhea, fatigue and low-grade fever. Serious infections, specially of the blood and kidneys, may manifest the same symptoms but will also include pale skin, bruising and passing only small amounts of urine.
How is E. Coli infection diagnosed and what is the treatment?
Your physician will perform tests on your stools to see if you are infected with E. coli. Most people infected with will recover within 5 to 10 days without treatment. Antibiotics do not usually help, and health practitioners usually recommend not to take anti-diarrheal medications as they can slow down the digestion process thus allowing more time for your body to absorb the poisons made by the E. Coli. Ensure that you drink lots of water so you will not get dehydrated.
How can reduce E. Coli contamination and infection?
If you eat out and you’re not sure how your food is handled, always ensure that they’re well cooked. Avoid drinking unpasteurized dairy and juice products. Avoid drinking tap or water from unknown sources specially when you’re out of town. Wash you hands thoroughly with an antibacterial soap after every bowel movement, after you’ve changed diapers, and after handling raw meat. Wash all tools and equipments that have touched raw meat.