What is an E. coli Infection?

Escherichia coli, better known as E. coli, is probably best known as the bacteria behind countless food recalls (and cases of food poisoning). However, some types of E. coli infections can lead to other serious illnesses if not properly managed. Eating contaminated food is the most common way to get an E. coli infection –– especially raw vegetables and undercooked ground beef. But what exactly is E. coli? What are the symptoms of an E. coli infection? And how can infections be prevented? We have the details for you here. 

Each year in the United States, E. coli infections cause approximately 265,000 illnesses and about 100 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Public health experts, including the CDC, rely on estimates rather than actual numbers for several reasons, including the fact that many infected people do not seek medical care. Therefore, it’s likely that the number of E. coli infections is much higher. 

What is E. coli? 

E. coli are a large and diverse group of bacteria found in food, the environment, and in the intestines of healthy people and animals. This rod-shaped bacterium can live in environments with or without air. Some strains of E. coli are pathogenic, which means they can cause an infection that leads to diarrhea, urinary tract infections, respiratory illness and pneumonia, and other illnesses. 

What Are the Symptoms of E. coli Infection? 

While symptoms of an E. coli infection can surface within just one day of exposure, it most often takes three to four days post-exposure to develop symptoms. However, symptoms can take up to 10 days after eating or drinking something that contains the bacteria before developing symptoms. Consult your doctor if you believe you may have an E. coli infection. The symptoms depend on what kind of infection occurs and where the infection is concentrated in the body. 

Typical signs and symptoms of an E. coli infection include: 

  • Nausea 
  • Vomiting 
  • Severe stomach pain, cramping, or tenderness
  • Diarrhea, which may range from mild and watery to severe and bloody
  • Dehydration due to diarrhea 
  • Fatigue
  • Low-grade fever 

Some strains of E. coli can lead to hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS)—a condition that can be life-threatening. HUS is a severe complication of E. coli infection that may lead to kidney failure.  

Signs of HUS include: 

  • Severe stomach pain
  • Decreased urination, blood in the urine 
  • A pale or swollen appearance
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Lightheadedness
  • Unexplained bruises
  • Seizures
  • Bleeding from the nose or gums
  • Kidney failure 

Who is Most Likely to Get An E. coli Infection? 

Anyone can get sick from E. coli, but certain people are more prone to infection. These include: 

  • Children younger than five years of age 
  • Adults aged 65 and older
  • People with weakened immune systems (including those with cancer, diabetes, HIV, and pregnant women) 

What Are the Causes of E. coli Infection? 

Infectious strains of E. coli most often spread through contaminated food or water. The bacteria can also spread from person to person on unwashed hands or contaminated surfaces and from touching infected animals. E. coli infections are common in community environments such as hospitals, daycares, and assisted living facilities. 

Preventing E. coli Infection

Along with other safety practices like washing hands thoroughly after using the restroom (or changing diapers), cooking food to the right temperature (at least 160F), avoiding unpasteurized dairy products and juices, –– cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting are vital in preventing E. coli infections from spreading via cross-contamination. 

When cleaning and sanitizing food-contact surfaces, always use a food-safe solution to avoid chemical contamination. Vital Oxide is designated by NSF International as a “no-rinse required” food-contact surface sanitizer. This versatile multi-purpose solution can be used full-strength or diluted for multiple applications. Vital Oxide kills 99.9% of bacteria, including pathogens like Salmonella enterica, Listeria, and E. coli, in less than 60 seconds, without leaving a harmful chemical residue. Vital Oxide can be used on food-contact surfaces like cutting boards, prep tables, dishes, beverage and ice equipment, and more to eliminate E. coli bacteria. 

Vital Oxide can also be used to disinfect surfaces like the kitchen sink (a great place for E. coli to live and grow since it is wet, moist, and full of food people put down the drain), as well as tables, countertops, and around the bathroom. 

Related: Help Prevent Foodborne Illnesses by Cleaning & Sanitizing Your Food Prep Area Correctly 

At Vital Oxide, we’re proud to offer a revolutionary product that’s powerful enough to kill viruses and bacteria without harsh chemicals or alarming safety ratings. Follow us on Facebook (@vitaloxide) for more great cleaning and disinfecting tips. If you have any questions, please Contact Us or Send Us a Message on Facebook. We're here to help.
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