Escherichia coli O157:H7 or E. coli for short, is
a growing cause of food borne illness.
Each year, 10,000 to 20,000 new cases of E. coli infection
occur in the United States.
E. coli often causes severe bloody diarrhea and
abdominal cramps, although nonbloody diarrhea or no symptoms can be
present. Kidney failure can also occur.
Most E. coli illness has been associated with
eating undercooked, contaminated ground beef.
Infection can also occur after drinking raw milk and after
swimming in or drinking sewage-contaminated water.
Cook all ground beef and hamburger
thoroughly. Because ground beef can turn brown before
disease-causing bacteria are killed, use a digital instant-read
meat thermometer to ensure thorough cooking. Ground beef should be
cooked until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part reads
at least 160¼ F.
If you are served an undercooked
hamburger or other ground beef product in a restaurant, send it
back for further cooking. You may want to ask for a new bun and a
clean plate, too.
Avoid spreading harmful bacteria in
your kitchen. Keep raw meat separate from ready-to-eat foods. Wash
hands, counters, and utensils with hot soapy water after they
touch raw meat. Never place cooked hamburgers or ground beef on
the unwashed plate that held raw patties. Wash meat thermometers
in between tests of patties that require further cooking.
Drink only pasteurized milk, juice, or
cider. Commercial juice with an extended shelf-life that is sold
at room temperature (e.g. juice in cardboard boxes, vacuum sealed
juice in glass containers) has been pasteurized, although this is
generally not indicated on the label. Juice concentrates are also
heated sufficiently to kill pathogens.
Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly,
especially those that will not be cooked.
Drink municipal water that has been
treated with chlorine or other effective disinfectants.
Avoid swallowing lake or pool water
Make sure that persons with diarrhea,
especially children, wash their hands carefully with soap after
bowel movements to reduce the risk of spreading infection, and
that persons wash hands after changing soiled diapers. Anyone with
a diarrhea illness should avoid swimming in public pools or
lakes, sharing baths with others, and preparing food for others.
Most persons recover without antibiotics or other
specific treatment in 5-10 days. There is no evidence that antibiotics
improve the course of disease, and it is thought that treatment with
some antibiotics may precipitate kidney complications. Antidiarrheal
agents, such as loperamide (Imodium), should also be avoided.
In some persons, particularly children under 5
years of age and the elderly, the infection can also cause a
complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome, in which the red blood
cells are destroyed and the kidneys fail. About 2%-7% of infections
lead to this complication. This life-threatening condition is usually
treated in an intensive care unit. Blood transfusions and kidney
dialysis are often required. With intensive care, the death rate for
hemolytic uremic syndrome is 3%-5%.
Anyone, but especially children under 5
years of age, immunocompromised persons, and the elderly