The world is teeming with microscopic organisms, fungi, and bacteria. They play countless beneficial, necessary roles to sustaining our environment we live in.
Believe it or not, the same is true inside each of us! The environment in our bodies where trillions of microbiota (an internal ecosystem consisting of parasites, bacteria, viruses and other organisms) exist is referred to as a microbiome, and it is helpful to our overall health when these organisms are in balance.
Most of the microbes we carry are symbiotic, which benefits both you and the microbiota, but there are smaller amounts of pathogenic (disease causing) microbes inside each of us which can potentially harm you.
One common type of microbe is Escherichia coli (E coli) bacteria. You may associate E. coli with food poisoning, but healthy people normally have some E. coli living in their intestines. That’s because not all strains of E. coli are harmful, or pathogenic.
Though most all E. coli doesn’t cause serious (or any) illness, pathogenic strains of it are responsible for 73,000 illnesses a year. So how do you know if you’ve been exposed to the bad strains of E coli? Let’s examine what the dangerous strains of E. coli, how you may get exposed, and how it is treated.
Patients living in the Fort Lauderdale, Pompano Beach, and Greater South Florida area looking for relief from the symptoms of E coli can find help with Drs. Craig Herman, Steven Kester, and the skilled medical team at Urology Center of Florida. We have decades of experience helping patients with on site lab facilities, state of the art technology and multiple treatment options for a variety of urological conditions.
What strains of E. coli is dangerous?
Only select strains of E. coli bacteria (six different types) are responsible for the painful symptoms associated with its pathogenic type of food poisoning.
Symptoms of exposure, which range from mild to severe, include:
- stomach cramping
- stomach pain
- diarrhea (ranging from mild and watery to severe and bloody).
Different strains of pathogenic E. coli are associated with different degrees of illness. The E. coli O157:H7 infection, which often starts within four days of exposure but may start causing symptoms anywhere from one day to a week after. These are also known as the Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) and they’re most known for the more severe symptoms and complications. Most other types of pathogenic E coli (non-0157 STEC) are milder cases less likely to do lasting harm.
How do you get exposed to it?
Most commonly, E. coli spreads through contaminated food and water. Ground beef, unpasteurized milk, and fresh produce (spinach and lettuce are particularly vulnerable) can contain the pathogenic strains of E coli if the bacteria gets in during production and processing.
Stool with the pathogen can also contaminate ground and surface water, lakes, rivers, and water used for crop irrigation. Private water wells may also be a potential source as they often don’t have a proper way to disinfect water.
Though initial exposure is usually through ingesting something contaminated, it is also contagious and can be passed between people or animals. It’s a higher risk for young children and older adults, as well as people with weakened immune systems. E. coli symptoms often pass within a week on their own, but people in these high-risk groups have a higher chance of getting hemolytic uremic syndrome, a life threatening type of kidney failure.
How is it prevented and treated?
The best form of prevention is cleanliness: make sure you regularly wash your hands, utensils, and foods (especially produce) before eating, and before coming into contact with animals. Thoroughly cooking your meat also helps reduce your risks of infection, at least until it is heated to 160 F (71 C) at its thickest point.
If you have been infected, treatment is mainly a combination of rest and taking in lots of clear fluids. While you’re recovering, be sure to avoid foods that are highly seasoned, high in fat, or dairy products as all of them can make symptoms worse. If you’re dealing with the complications of a severe case, you may be hospitalized and given blood transfusions, IV fluids, and kidney dialysis.
Most often, E. coli is unpleasant but passes in a short time. But it can be very harmful, so when you start showing symptoms, contact Drs. Herman, Kester, and Urology Center of Florida right away to get diagnosed and treated.