E. coli infection symptoms and causes

E. coli infection

The E. coli infection is a type of bacteria which normally lives in the intestines of people and animals. But, there are some types of E. coli, particularly E. coli O157:H7 which can lead to intestinal infection. The E. coli O157:H7 and other strains which cause intestinal sickness are called Shiga toxin – producing E. coli (STEC) and this name they have after the toxin they produce. The most common symptoms of intestinal infection include fever, abdominal pain and diarrhea. [1]

The more severe cases can lead to dehydration, bloody diarrhea and even kidney failure. Those people who have weak immune system, pregnant women, young children and older adults are having increased risk of developing the mentioned complications. The most intestinal infections are caused by the contaminated food or water. The proper food preparation and good hygiene can reduce the chances of developing an intestinal infection. The most cases of E. coli infection can be treated at home. The symptoms of E. coli infection usually resolve in a period of few days to a week.

E. coli infection treatment

E. coli infection symptoms

The symptoms of intestinal infection generally begin between one and ten days after you have been infected with E. coli. This is known as incubation period. When the symptoms appear, then they usually last around five to ten days. The symptoms of E. coli infection include: [2]

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Vomiting (uncommon)
  • Loss of appetite or nausea
  • Gas
  • You can have sudden, severe watery diarrhea that may change to bloody stools
  • Abdominal cramping

The symptoms can last from a few days to more than a week. The symptoms of E. coli infection include:

  • Dehydration
  • Bruising
  • Pale skin
  • Decreased urine output
  • Bloody urine

If you experience any of these severe symptoms, then you should talk with your doctor as soon as possible. There are some studies in which are shown that about 5 – 10% of people who are infected with the E. coli develop HUS (hemolytic uremic syndrome) which is a condition in which red blood cells are damaged. This could lead to kidney failure and this can be a life – threatening condition, especially for children and elderly. It is noticed that HUS generally begins about five to ten days after the onset of diarrhea.

E. coli infection causes

It is normal for people and animals to have some E. coli in their intestines, but some strains can cause the infection. The bacteria which are causing infection can enter the body in many different ways.

  1. Improper food handling: Whether the food is prepared in a grocery store, in a restaurant or at home, unsafe handling and preparation can cause contamination. The most common causes of food poisoning include: [3]
  • You are consuming raw produce that has not been properly washed
  • Drinking unpasteurized milk
  • You are consuming foods that have not been stored at the right temperature
  • You fail to wash your hands completely before preparing or eating food
  • Consuming raw seafood products
  • You are using utensils, cutting boards, or serving dishes that are not clean, causing cross – contamination
  • Consuming foods that are not cooked to the right temperature or duration of time, especially meats and poultry
  • Consuming dairy products of foods containing mayonnaise that have been left too long
  1. Food processing: The poultry and meat products during the slaughtering process acquire bacteria from the animal’s intestines. [3]
  2. Contaminated water: The poor sanitation can cause the water to contain bacteria from human or animal waste. You can get the E. coli infection from drinking contaminated water or from swimming in it. [4]
  3. Person to person: The E. coli can spread when the infected person does not wash their hands after they had a bowel movement. The bacteria are spreading when this person touches someone or something else, like food. Child care facilities, schools and nursing homes are particularly vulnerable to person – to – person spreading. [5]
  4. Animals: Those people who work with animals, especially, sheep, goat and cows are having increased risk of E. coli infection. Every single person who touch animals or who work in an environment with animals should wash their hands regularly and thoroughly.


[1] Rahal EA, Kazzi N, Nassar FJ, Matar GM. Escherichia coli O157:H7—Clinical aspects and novel treatment approaches. Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology. 2012;2:138.

[2] World Health Organization. E.coli. 2018. Retrieved from www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/e-coli

[3] Scott E. Food safety and foodborne disease in 21st century homes. Canadian Journal of Infectious Diseases. 2003;14(5):277–80.

[4] Pandey PK, Kass PH, Soupir ML, et al. Contamination of water resources by pathogenic bacteria. AMB Express. 2014;4:51.

[5] Seto EYW, Soller JA, Colford JM. Strategies to reduce person-to-person transmission during widespread Escherichia coli O157:H7 outbreak. Emerging Infectious Diseases. 2007;13(6).


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