E. coli O157:H7 Infection

What is Escherichia coli (E. coli) O157:H7 infection?

E. coliare bacteria that normally live in the intestines of humans and animals. Although most strains of this bacteria are harmless, several are known to produce toxins that can cause diarrhea (loose stool/poop). One particularE. coli strain called O157:H7 can cause severe diarrhea and sometimes kidney damage.

Who gets E. coli O157:H7 infection?

People of any age can become infected withE. coli O157:H7, but young children and the elderly are more likely to develop serious health problems. Since 2004, approximately 150-300 E. coli cases have been reported in NYS annually, and over half of these cases (55%) were caused by E. coli O157:H7 specifically.

How does E. coli O157:H7 spread?

People usually become infected with E. coli O157:H7 when they eat or drink any product contaminated with the bacteria. The bacteria live in the intestines of healthy cattle, and contamination of meat may occur during the slaughtering process. Infection typically occurs by eating contaminated food (including raw or undercooked meat), drinking raw (unpasteurized) milk or eating products made from raw milk, drinking untreated (not disinfected) water, and contact with cattle or the feces (poop) of infected individuals.

What are the symptoms of E. coli O157:H7 infection and when do they appear?

People infected withE. coli O157:H7 can develop a variety of symptoms, but they most often include stomach cramping, diarrhea (often bloody), and vomiting. Fever is not usually present. In some cases, those infected experience only mild diarrhea or no symptoms at all. For others, illness can become severe or even fatal.

Symptoms of E. coli O157:H7 infection usually appear 3-4 days following ingestion of (or direct contact with) a contaminated product, but can range from 1-10 days.

How is infection with E. coli O157:H7 diagnosed?

Infection with E. coli O157:H7 is most often diagnosed through laboratory testing of stool samples. Public health authorities recommend medical providers and laboratories consider E. coli O157:H7 testing for patients with bloody diarrhea.

Do people infected withE. coli O157:H7 need to be isolated or excluded from school or work?

In some cases, people with E. coli 0157:H7 infection may be asked to stay home from work or school until their symptoms resolve, to avoid the spread of disease to others.

What is the treatment for infection with E. coli O157:H7?

Most people recover from E. coli O157:H7 infection without specific treatment. Drinking plenty of fluids is recommended. Antibiotics should not be used for the treatment ofE. coli O157:H7 infection, as research has shown that some antibiotics can increase the risk of serious health problems.

What complications can result from infection with E. coli O157:H7?

In some people, particularly children under five years of age, infection with E. coli O157:H7 can lead to the development of hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). HUS is a serious life-threatening disease that can cause kidney damage or failure and other serious problems. Hospitalization is often required because transfusions of blood, plasma exchange, or kidney dialysis may be necessary. Fortunately, most people with HUS recover completely within a few weeks, although for some it can be fatal.

How can infection with E. coli O157:H7 be prevented?

To avoid infection with E. coli O157:H7, thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water after using the toilet or changing diapers, before preparing or eating food, and after any animal contact (at home, farms, petting zoos, etc.). Do not eat raw or undercooked hamburger or other ground beef products; meat should be cooked to a temperature of at least 160°F/70°C. Be sure to wash all surfaces and utensils that come into contact with raw meat so as to avoid contamination to other food items or surfaces. Drink only pasteurized milk, juices, and ciders. Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly, especially those that will be eaten raw. Do not drink water from untreated sources (including roadside springs) and avoid swallowing water from recreational water sources (including lakes, streams, and swimming pools).

People infected with E. coli O157:H7 are urged to thoroughly wash their hands with soap and water, especially after using the toilet or before preparing food, to reduce the risk of spreading the disease to others.