E. coli bacteria often dwell in the intestines of healthy humans and animals. Most E. coli strains are either innocuous or very briefly cause diarrhea. A few strains, however, might result in vomiting, bloody diarrhea, and severe stomach pains.

E. coli can be spread by contaminated food or drink, particularly raw vegetables and undercooked ground beef. E. coli infections in healthy persons often resolve within a week. A life-threatening kind of renal failure is more likely to affect young kids and elderly individuals.

E. coli: Causes

Just a few E. coli types cause diarrhea. The E. coli O157:H7 strain is a member of a subgroup of E. coli that generates a potent toxin that damages the small intestine's lining. This may result in bilious diarrhea. When you consume this bacteria, you get an E. coli infection.

E. coli, in contrast to many other bacteria that cause disease, may infect you even if you just consume a little quantity. As a result, eating a hamburger that was just a little underdone or gulping down tainted pool water can both make you sick with E. coli.

Person-to-person contact and tainted food and water are also potential exposure sources.

Unhealthy Food

  • Eating infected food, such as tainted meat, is the most typical method to develop an E. coli infection.

  • Beef mince. E. coli bacteria from the cattle's intestines can contaminate the meat during the slaughter and processing procedure. When ground beef mixes flesh from several animals, there is a higher chance of infection.

  • Raw milk can be contaminated with E. coli germs from a cow's udder or through milking tools.

  • Fields, where fresh food is produced, may become contaminated by runoff from livestock farms. Spinach and lettuce are two vegetables that are particularly prone to this kind of infection.

Polluted Water

  • Ground and surface water, including streams, rivers, lakes, and water used to irrigate crops, can get contaminated by human and animal waste.

  • Several E. coli outbreaks have been connected to polluted municipal water sources, even though public water systems utilize chlorine, UV light, or ozone to kill E. coli.

  • Because many private water wells lack a means of water sanitization, they pose a bigger threat. The chances of polluted water sources are highest in rural areas. After swimming in lakes or pools tainted with feces, some people have also contracted E. coli.

Personal Interaction

E. coli germs are very contagious, especially when children and adults who are afflicted do not properly wash their hands. Families of small children with E. coli infections are particularly susceptible to contracting it. Moreover, outbreaks have happened in animal stables and among kids visiting petting zoos.

E. coli: Symptoms

Three to four days following contact with the germs, H7 infections often start. Yet, you might get sick as soon as a day after exposure or up to a week later. Some warning signs and symptoms include the following −

  • From light and watery to severe and bloody diarrhea, stomach cramps, discomfort, or tenderness

  • Some people experience nausea and vomiting.

E. coli: Risk Factors

Several factors play an important role in the development of E.coli which includes −

  • Age. Little children and elderly individuals are more likely to get an infection-related sickness from E. coli and develop more severe consequences.

  • Compromised immune systems. Individuals with compromised immune systems, such as those caused by AIDS, cancer treatment medicines, or medications used to prevent organ transplant rejection, are more likely to fall unwell after swallowing E. coli.

  • Eating particular food items. Unpasteurized milk, apple juice, cider, and soft cheeses made from raw milk are among the riskier meals, along with overcooked hamburgers.

  • The season. The bulk of E. coli infections occur from June through September, however, it is unclear why.

  • Lower amounts of gastric acid. E. coli is somewhat defended against by stomach acid.

You may be more likely to get an E. coli infection if you use stomach acid-reducing drugs such as esomeprazole, pantoprazole, lansoprazole, and omeprazole.

E. coli: Diagnosis

The diagnosis of the E.coli is mainly done based on history and some of the tests may be required for confirmation and to rule out underlying causes

Your doctor sends a sample of your stool to a lab to be tested for the presence of E. coli bacteria to identify diseases brought on by E. coli infection. To confirm the diagnosis and identify particular toxins, such as those released by E. coli O157:H7, the bacteria may be grown.

E. coli: Treatment

The treatment is based on the severity of the symptoms. No existing therapies can eliminate the infection, lessen symptoms, or stop the consequences of E. coli-related illnesses. Treatment often involves −

  • Rest fluids to stave off weariness and dehydration

  • Avoid using anti-diarrheal medications since they slow down your digestion and inhibit your body from eliminating toxins. Antibiotics are typically not advised because they don't seem to effectively treat the illness and they raise the risk of catastrophic effects.

  • You will be hospitalized if you have a major E. coli infection that has led to the hemolytic uremic syndrome, a potentially fatal form of kidney failure. IV fluids, blood transfusions, and renal dialysis are all part of the treatment.

To avoid dehydration and to lessen symptoms while you're recuperating, remember to −

  • Consume clear drinks. Many clear liquids should be consumed, such as water, clear broths and sodas, gelatin, and juices. Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and juices from apples and pears.

  • Don't eat specific things. Foods heavy in fiber, fat, or seasoning, as well as dairy products, might exacerbate symptoms.

  • Consume food. You can resume your regular diet once you start to feel better.

E. coli: Prevention

Some of the measures that can help to prevent E. coli include −

  • Clean the dishes. Before and after contacting fresh vegetables or raw meat, wash knives, surfaces, and cutting boards with hot, soapy water.

  • Separate raw food items. Cutting boards for raw meat and other meals, such as fruits and vegetables, should be used separately. Never serve cooked hamburgers on the same dish as raw ones.

  • Sanitize your hands. After using the restroom, preparing or eating meals, or changing diapers, wash your hands. Make sure kids wash their hands before and after using the restroom, eating, and petting animals.

  • Consume pasteurized juice, milk, and cider. Even if it isn't specified on the label, any boxed or bottled juice kept at room temperature is most likely pasteurized. Avoid any juice or dairy products that haven't been pasteurized.

  • Thoroughly wash any raw vegetables. Washing vegetables might not completely eradicate E. coli, especially in leafy greens where there are several surfaces for the bacterium to adhere to.


Certain E. coli strains can result in life-threatening food poisoning, but most are safe. A bacteria known as Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) is capable of causing serious foodborne illness. Raw milk, undercooked or raw ground beef products, and fecescontaminated produce are the main causes of STEC epidemics.

Dr. Durgesh Kumar Sinha
Dr. Durgesh Kumar Sinha


Updated on: 18-Apr-2023


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