E. coli is the abbreviated version of Escherichia coli, a bacterium found in the lower intestines of mammals and birds. Although it is necessary intestinal bacteria that helps with the digestion of food, it can be very dangerous if ingested. If a person inadvertently ingests the bacteria, the resulting infection is called E. coli enteritis, which causes the small intestine to become inflamed.
People can contract an E. coli infection by drinking contaminated water, eating fruit or vegetables that have been watered with contaminated water, drinking unpasteurized milk, or eating undercooked ground meat. The infection can also be caught by coming into contact with others who are infected or by working in environments where one might come into contact with human or animal feces, such as farms, day care centers, nursing homes, or hospitals. The most common way to contract an infection is by eating hamburgers that are not fully cooked. The symptoms are primarily acute diarrhea that may or may not be bloody, severe stomach cramps, bloating, and gas. While these are the most prevalent symptoms, many people infected with E. coli might also experience continuous abdominal pain, loss of appetite, fever, and in rare cases, vomiting.
A positive E. coli infection is diagnosed by a stool culture. The culture must be taken within the first two days of the onset of severe or bloody diarrhea. Although the diarrhea is unpleasant and often painful, most medical professionals do not prescribe medicine to make it stop. The diarrhea must continue to rid the body of the bacteria. Usually, when someone is diagnosed with an infection, he or she is hospitalized and watched for dehydration. Treatment involves drinking lots of water and often taking fluids intravenously.
If a positive diagnosis for this bacteria has been confirmed, the infected person will be extremely contagious. People with E. coli should not touch or be in close contact with other people until they have had two negative stool cultures. This means that children, day care workers, and nursing home workers who are infected should stay home until they are completely cured.
The best way to deal with E. coli is to prevent infection before it occurs. There are two primary means of preventing infection. The first is to wash hands thoroughly before and after cooking, as well as after using the restroom, changing a diaper, or handling raw meat. The second is to cook ground beef thoroughly, until there is no evidence of pink, even in the center. Other ways to avoid this bacteria are to clean dishes and counter tops that have been touched by raw meat, defrost meat in the refrigerator rather than on the counter top, and refrigerate leftovers right away.