What is Escherichia Coli?
Escherichia coli is a bacterium species of the Escherichia genus. It is a part of the normal intestinal flora and isn’t harmful or dangerous. But a few strains of the bacterium can cause a very severe infection that can lead to potentially very serious complications. The most dangerous is the strain known as O157:H7 which produces a strong toxin that causes damage to the intestinal lining and can trigger a bloody diarrhoea. Healthy adults usually recover without any complications, while older adults and young children can develop fatal kidney failure.
What are the Sources of Escherichia Coli Infection and How the Bacterium is Transmitted?
Escherichia coli infection is most often caused by ingestion of contaminated food or water. Some of the most common sources of the infection include undercooked meat, unpasteurised milk and milk products, and some vegetables such as lettuce. It is enough to ingest only a tiny amount of the bacterium to develop an infection. The disease-causing strain of Escherichia coli can also be contracted through contact with an infected person.
What are the Symptoms of Escherichia Coli Infection?
The main symptom of Escherichia coli is diarrhoea, the severity of which may range from mild to frequent, painful and bloody stools. Diarrhoea is often accompanied by stomach cramps, and sometimes nausea and vomiting. Symptoms typically develop three to four days after the infection with the bacterium.
Who is at Increased Risk of Escherichia Coli Infection?
Anyone can get infected with Escherichia coli but some groups of people are more likely to contract the bacterium and develop a more severe form of infection:
Older adults and young children. They are more likely to experience severe symptoms but they are also at increased risk of kidney failure.
Immunocompromised individuals. People with a weakened immune system due to an underlying medical condition (HIV/AIDS, cancer) or medical procedure (organ transplant) are more likely to get sick if exposed to the bacterium.
How is Escherichia Coli Infection Treated?
Even though Escherichia coli is a bacterium, antibiotics should be avoided because they have been linked to an increased risk of complications. Equally important is to avoid taking antidiarrhoeals because the toxins that are produced by the bacteria are being removed from the body through frequent, loose stools. The best treatment for the majority of people is rest and increased fluid intake to prevent dehydration. Patients with severe diarrhoea or/and signs of dehydration require hospitalisation to be monitored and receive proper supportive care.