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E. Coli Infection From Food or Water

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The main symptoms of an E. coli O157:H7 infection are:

Some people do not notice any symptoms. Children are more likely than adults to have symptoms. Symptoms usually start 3 or 4 days after you come in contact with the E. coli.

Most people get better in about a week. They often don't see a doctor and don't know that E. coli caused their problems.

When E. coli causes serious problems with the blood or kidneys, symptoms include:

  • Pale skin.
  • A fever.
  • Weakness.
  • Bruising.
  • Passing only small amounts of urine.

Your doctor may suspect that you have an E. coli infection after he or she asks you questions and does an exam. Your stool will probably be tested for E. coli.

E. coli infection usually goes away on its own. Your main treatment is to make yourself comfortable and drink sips of water. Diarrhea causes the body to lose more water than usual. This can lead to dehydration, which is especially dangerous for babies and older adults. Taking frequent, small sips of water will help prevent dehydration.

If you have bloody diarrhea that may be from an E. coli infection, do not take diarrhea medicine or antibiotics. These medicines can slow down the digestion process, allowing more time for your body to absorb the poisons made by the E. coli. Call your doctor instead.

In some people, E. coli infection causes serious problems with the blood and kidneys. These people may need blood transfusions or dialysis. Dialysis is a treatment that helps filter waste products from the blood when the kidneys aren't working right.

Food and water that are infected with E. coli germs look and smell normal. But there are some things you can do to prevent infection:

  • Cook ground beef to at least 160 °F (71 °C).
  • In the kitchen, wash your hands with hot, soapy water often, especially after you touch raw meat.
  • Wash any tools or kitchen surfaces that have touched raw meat.
  • Use only pasteurized milk, dairy, and juice products.
  • Use only treated, or chlorinated, drinking water.
  • When you travel to countries that may have unsafe drinking water, don't use ice or drink tap water. Avoid raw fruits and vegetables, except those with skin that you peel yourself.
  • Wash your hands often, and always wash them after you use the bathroom or change diapers.
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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: May 29, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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