E Coli Fact Sheet
What is E. coli?
Although most strains of E. coli (Escherichia coli) are harmless, the strain E. coli O157:H7 produces a powerful toxin that can cause severe illness.
How does E. coli spread?
People can become infected with E. coli in a variety of ways. Though most illness has been associated with eating undercooked, contaminated ground beef, people have also become ill from eating contaminated bean sprouts or fresh leafy vegetables such as lettuce and spinach. Person-to-person contact in families and child care centers is also a known mode of transmission. In addition, infection can occur after drinking raw milk and after swimming in or drinking sewage-contaminated water.
What are the symptoms of E. coli?
People generally become ill from E. coli two to eight days (average of 3-4 days) after being exposed to the bacteria. E. coli infection often causes severe bloody diarrhea and abdominal cramps, and occasionally kidney failure. Sometimes the infection causes non-bloody diarrhea or no symptoms. Usually little or no fever is present, and the illness resolves in 5 to 10 days.
How can I protect myself from E. coli?
Consumers can prevent E. coli infection by thoroughly cooking ground beef, avoiding unpasteurized milk, and by washing hands carefully before preparing or eating food. Fruits and vegetables should be washed well, but washing may not remove all contamination. Public service announcements on television, radio, or in the newspapers will advise you which foods to avoid in the event of an outbreak.
*Information from Centers for Disease Control - http://www.cdc.gov/ecoli.