WHAT IS IT?
Escherichia coli (E. coli) are a large and diverse group of bacteria. Most strains are harmless and important to our health, but some kinds of E. coli can cause disease. The most common STEC species in the United States is E. coli O157:H7. STEC infections are estimated to cause 265,000 foodborne illnesses in the United States each year. Infections are more common in the spring and summer. A person can is infected by swallowing the bacteria, typically tiny amounts of human or animal feces. This can happen by:
- Consuming contaminated undercooked ground beef
- Consuming unpasteurized milk, juice and soft cheeses
- Consuming raw vegetables
- Swallowing contaminated water that has not been disinfected
- Visiting/coming into contact with animals (petting zoo).
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
- Diarrhea (Often bloody)
- Low fever <101ºF
- Abdominal cramps
Symptoms generally begin 2 to 8 days after infection. STEC infection usually lasts for 5 to 7 days. Around 5% to 10% will develop a life-threatening complication known as hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). If HUS develops, it usually occurs after 1 week. Symptoms of HUS can include lethargy, abdominal tenderness, bruising, and swelling. HUS is known for the destruction of red blood cells, damage to the lining of blood vessel walls, and kidney failure. Most people with HUS recover completely after a prolonged hospital stay. 10% of those who develop HUS will die or have permanent renal failure.
HOW CAN I PREVENT CONTRACTING THIS DISEASE?
There is currently no vaccine against STEC infection. There is no specific antibacterial treatment for STEC infection. Most persons recover without antibiotics or other treatment in 5 to 10 days. Antidiarrheal agents, such as loperamide (Imodium), should be avoided. Ill people should drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Young children and the elderly are at special risk for dehydration. A prolonged stay in the hospital will be required if diagnosed with HUS.
You can help prevent the spread of STEC by:
- Cooking beef, pork, and lamb steaks to an internal temperature of 145°F (63°C) and cooking ground beef, pork, and lamb to an internal temperature of 155°F (68°C).
- Frequently washing your hands vigorously with soap and warm water, especially after toilet visits, changing diapers, and before eating or preparing food.
- Washing kitchen work surfaces, and utensils with soap and water immediately after they have been in contact with raw meat or poultry.
- Avoid raw milk, unpasteurized dairy products, and unpasteurized juices (like fresh apple cider).
- Avoid swallowing water when swimming in lakes, ponds, streams, and swimming pools.
- Washing clothing and linens soiled with stool or vomit in hot water and soap, immediately.
- Not preparing food for at least 3 to 5 days after recovering from being ill.
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