E. Coli is a bacteria common to people. Certain species or E. Coli live naturally in the human gastrointestinal tract. It also naturally lives in the gastrointestinal tract of animals. Most species of E. Coli are harmless and can be beneficial to digestion. However, not all species of E. Coli are harmless to humans. In fact, several species, like E. Coli O157:H7, produce deadly toxins during an infection, which can cause severe complications.
E. Coli O157:H7 is considered the worst type of E. Coli. Once introduced into the intestinal tract of a person, this type multiplies and releases a harmful toxin, called Shiga toxin. This toxin destroys red blood cells, causing hemolytic uremic syndrome and kidney injury. Persons who have developed hemolytic uremic syndrome often require intensive care, kidney dialysis, and transfusions. Complications could also include needing transplants and possibly, death. E. Coli O157:H7 is not the only type that is dangerous. Other Shiga toxin producing E. Coli, like E. Coli O26, can also have the same symptoms and complications. These species are less known as old laboratory testing methods did not test for them. Scientists are still learning about these potentially fatal bacteria.
The onset of illness relating to E. Coli can occur within 1 to 10 days of ingesting contaminated foods or drinks. Also, a person can become infected with E. Coli through contact with infected animals or other people. The symptoms of an E. Coli infection include: bloody diarrhea, severe abdominal pain, and potentially, vomiting. Symptoms of hemolytic uremic syndrome usually show within a week and include: decreased urination, tea-colored urine, and pale skin. Due to the severity of complications involving E. Coli infection, urgent and immediate medical attention is recommended. As antibiotics are not typically prescribed to treat E. Coli infections, medical supportive care is crucial to avoid serious injury.
Like most foodborne illnesses, E. Coli infections are preventable. Through simple food safety practices, like handwashing and heating foods to their optimum cooking temperature, the risk of E. Coli infection can be reduced. It is recommended by FoodSafety.gov to heat hamburger or ground beef to an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent infection.
Famous Outbreak: In 1993, Jack in the Box restaurants and their suppliers were implicated in an E. Coli outbreak that left 732 people infected, 178 people with permanent injuries, and caused 4 deaths. The investigation into the outbreak found that hamburgers from the restaurants were contaminated with E. Coli O157:H7 and the failure to adhere to safe cooking practices was the cause of the outbreak.