Division of Epidemiology & Health Planning
275 East Main Street, Frankfort, KY 40621
502-564-3418 or 3261
What is Escherichia coli O157:H7?
Escherichia coli O157:H7 is one of hundreds of strains of the bacterium Escherichia coli. Although most strains are harmless and live in the intestines of healthy humans and animals, this strain produces a powerful toxin and can cause severe illness.
How Escherichia coli O157:H7 is spread
People can become ill by eating meat, especially ground beef, that has not been cooked sufficiently to kill E. coli O157:H7. The bacterium is also transmitted by person-to-person (frequent hand washing helps reduce risk); drinking raw milk; consumption of sprouts, lettuce, salami, and juice; and swimming in or drinking sewage-contaminated water.
The symptoms of Escherichia coli O157:H7
Escherichia coli O157:H7 often causes severe bloody diarrhea and abdominal cramps with little or no fever. However, the infection can also cause non-bloody diarrhea or cause no symptoms at all.
Symptoms develop within 2-8 days and last 3-10 days.
Complications of Escherichia coli O157:H7
Dehydration (loss of body fluids), hemolytic uremic syndrome (destruction of red blood cells and resulting kidney failure) or thrombocytopenic purpura may complicate the illness.
How Escherichia coli O157:H7 is diagnosed and treated
Escherichia coli O157:H7 is diagnosed by stool sample culture. Most people recover without antibiotic treatment in 5-10 days. Anti-diarrhea medications should be avoided and fluid intake should be increased to prevent dehydration from diarrhea.
How Escherichia coli O157:H7 can be prevented
- Wash hands thoroughly after bowel movements and after changing soiled diapers;
- Cook all ground beef and hamburger thoroughly;
- 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;
- Drink only pasteurized milk, juice, or cider;
- Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly;
- Drink municipal water treated with chlorine or other effective disinfectants; and
- Avoid swallowing lake or pool water while swimming.