Escherichia coli, better known as E. coli bacteria, normally live in the intestines of people and animals.
While most E. coli are harmless and even part of a healthy human intestinal tract, some are more dangerous and can cause illness.
John Tafuri, MD, Director of Regional Emergency Medicine for Cleveland Clinic, warns that symptoms of E. coli poisoning can often mirror a viral infection, but are often times more severe and persist longer.
Spotting E. coli problems
According to Dr. Tafuri, E. coli are most commonly transmitted by eating undercooked meat or contaminated produce.
Symptoms of E. coli, which can surface 3-5 days after ingestion, include stomach cramping and diarrhea. In severe cases, diarrhea may become bloody, in which case Dr. Tafuri advises folks to seek medical attention immediately.
Who is at risk?
While ingesting E. coli poses a risk to everyone, Dr. Tafuri warns that folks with weaker immune systems, such as the elderly, children, and pregnant women need to be especially careful.
“Children in particular, tend to develop complications of E. coli infections, sometimes which are life threatening and they’re at particular risk and so we need to be very concerned about them,” says Dr. Tafuri.
Dr. Tafuri says E. coli can lead to hemolytic uremic syndrome, in which the toxins produced from diarrhea can get into the blood stream and damage the kidneys. This condition can be lethal to children.
Prevention is key
“Prevention is number one,” says Dr. Tafuri. “Supportive treatment can be very helpful, but preventing the illness from the start by thorough cooking, thorough hygiene as far how you cut your meat, and the utensils, and items you use, is the most important thing-let’s prevent the illness and not even have to worry about treating it down the road.”