Hundreds of E. coli strains are harmless, including those that thrive in the intestinal tracts of humans and other warm-blooded animals. These strains are part of the protective microbial community in the intestine and are essential for general health. Other strains, such as E. coli serotype O157:H7, enterohemorrhagic E. coli, enterotoxigenic E. coli (ETEC), and enteropathogenic E. coli (EPEC) cause serious poisoning in humans. E. coli O157:H7 can produce one or more kinds of poisons that can severely damage the lining of the intestines and kidneys. These types of bacteria are called Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC).
E. coli O157:H7 has caused major disease outbreaks in North America. It is estimated that 70,000 cases of infection with E. coli O157:H7 occur in North America every year.
Cattle are the main sources of E. coli O157:H7, but these bacteria are also in other domestic and wild mammals. Most illness has been associated with:
The most common contaminated foods and liquids that have caused E. coli outbreaks include:
STEC can also occur by
Shiga toxin-producing E. coli can cause bloody diarrhea and can lead to kidney failure, especially in young children or in people with weakened immune systems. Other symptoms include:
STEC can also cause low-grade fever or vomiting. Symptoms usually begin from 2 to 5 days after eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated liquids. Symptoms may last for 8 days, and most people recover completely from the disease.
Early supportive treatment is important for people with E. coli infection, especially those who have Shiga toxin-producing E. coli.
There is no evidence that treatment with antibiotics is helpful, and taking antibiotics may increase the risk of hemolytic uremic syndrome, a serious complication of STEC that can lead to kidney failure.
To prevent Shiga toxin-producing E. coli infection, you should:
Hemolytic uremic syndrome, (HUS), a serious complication of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, can lead to kidney failure and death. Children are particularly prone to this complication, and HUS is the most common cause of acute kidney failure In North America.
Blood transfusions and kidney dialysis, performed in the intensive care unit of a hospital, are needed to treat this life-threatening condition. About 8 percent of people with HUS have other lifelong complications, such as: