Escherichia Coli, more commonly known as E. coli, is a cylindrical-shaped bacteria that’s usually found in the lower intestinal area in organisms that are warm-blooded. It is estimated that the E. coli bacteria has been surviving now for close to 30 million years. There are many strains of the E. coli bacteria, with the majority being harmless. However, there are some strains that can lead to major food poisoning in human beings. It is these harmful strains which we often hear about in the news as large-scale recalls of foods are announced. The non-harmful strains that reside in our guts are actually beneficial to our health through their production of vitamin K2, as well as stopping the proliferation of harmful bacteria throughout the intestine.
There are three main modes of contracting E. coli, and they are: food that has been contaminated, water that’s contaminated, and person to person contact. Regarding the contaminated food mode of transmission, this is the most common mode for a person to contract E. coli. So, for instance, the bacteria can easily be found in ground beef. Thus, as cows are killed and then their meat processed, there is the possibility for the bacteria, which live in their guts, to end up on the actual meat. Furthermore, store-bought ground beef often is a combination of meat from various animals, and so the chances of E. coli ending up in the meat is greatly enhanced. Milk that’s unpasteurized is another major source for E. coli contamination. Bacteria that exists either on the udder of the dairy cow or the equipment used for milking the cow may end up in the unpasteurized milk. Fresh vegetables, like spinach and lettuce, are another possible source of E. coli, as contamination from cattle farms can leach into nearby vegetable fields. Finally, if employees working in a restaurant do not practice proper hygiene when handling fresh meat, or after using the washroom, E. coli can quickly and easily spread to the served food. Regarding contaminated water, animal and human waste can get into lakes, rivers, etc., with the water possibly then being used to spray food crops. Well-water is also of great concern, as is swimming pool water, and when swimmers spend time in lakes polluted with feces. Finally, human-to-human contact can be a major method of contamination. This method is prevalent when we do not wash our hands correctly and frequently. E. coli outbreaks have also been know to occur in children visiting zoos and petting farms.
When considering the symptoms of E. coli, it should be noted that children are much more susceptible to the bacterial infection than adults. Also, many people will become infected but show and feel no symptoms whatsoever. However, symptoms common to all who show signs of being infected are, for example, a severe tenderness in the stomach area as well as cramping in the stomach. Severe diarrhea will often be present, with the diarrhea initially being watery, then turning more bloody. Accompanying these symptoms is also vomiting and, of course, nausea. Also worthy of attention is the fact that often times other medical illnesses resemble E. coli infection. Thus, any E. coli diagnosis may be complicated because of the fact that a lot bacterial infections resulting in diarrhea also come with a very elevated fever. So, if you have no sign of a fever, or even just a mild one, it’s likely that there is another cause other than bacteria. Finally, any symptoms from an E. coli infection will likely go away in about one week. However, there’s always a chance, due to the diarrhea, that issues with the kidney and blood can develop a few weeks after the infection has passed, leading to possible kidney failure, or even death in immuno-compromised individuals.
Most people either will never know they had the bacteria (possibly passing it on, unknowingly, to someone else) or if they do realize and show symptoms, it’s often too late to take any further preventive measures. Thus, when it comes to such a bacterial infection, treatment involves symptom management during, as well as after, infection. During infection, it is mainly dehydration from the severe diarrhea that needs the most attention, especially if you end up developing any kidney or blood complications. Thus, it will be important to monitor essential mineral intake and fluid intake. You may also require dialysis in order to filter all the toxins out of your blood stream. Also, a blood transfusion may be required if you develop anemia from the infection. Regarding drugs and medications, usually people will not need any medications for the infection, with a full recovery possible in about one week. Thus, there are a few drugs that should be avoided, or else further complications may arise. For example, antibiotics are to be avoided. Also, anti-diarrhea medications should not be taken, as these can slow the rate that toxins and food are passed through the system, allowing more uptake of the harmful bacteria by the body.