Download Facts About E. coli
E.coli (Escherichia coli) are bacteria that can be found in the intestines of humans and animals, and in their feces. There are many different types of E. coli. Some are harmless, but some can make you sick. An estimated 265,000 E. coli infections occur in the U.S. each year. Because many cases are not diagnosed or reported, the actual number of infections may be higher.
What are the symptoms of E. coli?
The symptoms of E. coli usually begin three to four days after swallowing the bacteria and can last six to eight days. The most common symptoms of E. coli include:
- Stomach pain
- Diarrhea and/or bloody diarrhea
Children are more likely to develop severe complications affecting the kidneys from E. coli, requiring hospitalization. These complications occur about a week after developing symptoms when the diarrhea is going away.
Who is at most at risk for E. coli?
The elderly, infants and people with weak immune systems are more likely to have a severe illness from E.coli.
How is E. coli spread?
People can get sick after accidentally swallowing tiny pieces of human or animal feces containing E. coli bacteria. There are many ways E. coli is spread through food, animals, people and the environment. The most common ways include:
- Food. E. coli can spread through unsafe food handling and cooking practices such as:
- Not washing hands after using the restroom and then handling food.
- Raw meat touching or dripping on other food that will be served uncooked, such as vegetables. Under cooking meats, especially beef, and eating unpasteurized milk and cheeses.
- Animals. Types of E. coli can be found in the feces of animals, including:
- Other animals, such as pigs and birds, sometimes spread E. coli by picking it up from other nearby animals.
- People. E. coli can be spread by an infected person who did not wash their hands with soap and water after using the restroom. If this person works in a restaurant, many people may get sick.
What should I do if I think I have E. coli?
- Contact your healthcare provider if you have symptoms of an E. coli infection, including bloody or severe diarrhea.
How is E. coli treated?
Most cases of E. coli should not be treated with antibiotics. For these cases you can treat the symptoms by:
- Getting plenty of rest, and drinking fluids like water to prevent dehydration.
- Taking over-the-counter medicines to relieve fever, pain, vomiting and diarrhea.
How can I prevent E. coli?
- Thoroughly cook all raw meat to safe temperatures set by the U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service.
- Do not eat or drink food containing unpasteurized (raw) milk.
- Wash your hands after using the restroom, changing diapers, after contact with farm animals and before touching food.
- Wash your hands, kitchen surfaces and utensils after touching raw meat.
For more information or questions about E. coli, call Denver Public Health, (303) 602-3614.
This information was updated as of 6/14/2016
Sources: Denver Environmental Health, Denver Public Health, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services