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Escherichia Coli

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.


See Also...
  USFDA "Bad Bug Book"
For more information on foodborne pathogenic microorganisms and natural toxins from the US Food & Drug Administration

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Last Updated 7/27/2007