by Kimberly Allen R.N.
E coli is a bacteria that is normally found in the intestines of healthy people and animals. There are over 700 different stains of e coli most of which live withe in our small intestines and colon. Most are considered to be “normal flora” and do not cause disease. However, they can cause disease if they get into other areas of our body, for example in the urinary system where they cause bladder and/or kidney infections. Of all the strains e coli 0157:H is the most notorious because it is not only virulent it also frequently causes complications. What makes this strain of e coli so virulent are the toxins it produces, the ver-toxin or shiga toxin. These toxins damage the lining of the intestines. The most common method of transmission is by eating contaminated foods like ground beef, unpasteurized milk or fresh produce. Contaminated water is also a common source of e coli. Streams, rivers and lakes can become contaminated by animal feces, especially after heavy rains or during spring run off. E coli also travels easily from person to person. Though e coli can infect anyone that is exposed to it some people are more susceptible than others. The elderly and the very young not only have an increased risk of contracting e coli they are also prone to more serious complications. People with weakened immune systems either because of disease or medications are also more susceptible to e coli illnesses.
it usually takes 3-4 days after being exposed to e coli for the symptoms to appear though they can develop earlier or later, even over a week after exposure. The most frequently reported symptoms are diarrhea, which can be anywhere from mild and runny to severe and bloody. Abdominal pain and cramping that are usually accompanied by tenderness as well as nausea and vomiting are also common symptoms.
There is no cure for e coli infection, for many people the infection resolves itself in about a week. Most don’t even see their Dr because they don’t realize that e coli is the cause of their problems. However, for some the e coli causes serious problems. It’s important to avoid anti-diarrheals like immodium as these medications can slow the muscles of the intestines and prevent the body from eliminating the toxins.
Prevention is always better than treatment and there are ways to lower yoyr riisk of contracting an e coli infection. The single most important thing you can do to avoid contamination and infection is hand washing. Always thoroughly wash your hands after using the bathroom, or changing a diaper as well as after handling raw meat. Avoid risky eating habits, be sure your hamburger is completely cooked, it needs to be at least 160degrees (F). Wash all fresh produce thoroughly to reduce the number of bacteria on the produce. Avoid cross contamination by washing all utensils, cutting boards and counters with hot soapy water before and after use. Use separate cutting boards for raw meats and produce and never, never use the same plate that the raw meat was on to put the cooked meat on after grilling.
Summer can be great fun grilling and having picnics. It’s important to take the time to store and prepare your food correctly, keeping the cold foods like salads and fruit separate from meats whether cooked or raw and being sure to keep foods like mayonnaise cold are a priority. Have fun and gather good memories, not memories of “oh ya that’s when I got sick” take the time to be safe you’ll be glad you did.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.