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E. Coli Infection From Food or Water

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Treatment Overview

Treatment of infection with E. coli O157:H7 bacteria involves managing complications—mainly dehydration caused by diarrhea.

If you develop symptoms of severe blood or kidney problems, such as anemia or kidney failure, your treatment may include:

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  • Careful regulation of fluids and essential minerals.
  • Dialysis, to filter waste products from your blood. Some people with kidney failure caused by E. coli infection require dialysis.
  • Blood transfusion, to treat anemia by giving you additional oxygen-rich red blood cells.

Medicines to avoid

Most people recover from E. coli infections in 5 to 10 days without the need for medicine. Antibiotics are not recommended. Tell your doctor if you think you may have E. coli infection and are taking antibiotics.

Nonprescription or prescription diarrhea medicines usually are not used to treat E. coli infection. Many antidiarrheal products slow the rate at which food and waste products move through the intestines. This may allow more time for the body to absorb the poisons produced by the bacteria, increasing the risk of complications such as severe blood and kidney problems.

Avoid these nonprescription products if you have or suspect you have an E. coli infection:

  • Loperamide products. These include Imodium, Maalox, and other antidiarrheal products. Note: Only those products that list loperamide in their ingredients should be avoided.
  • Products containing salicylates. These include Pepto-Bismol and similar bismuth-based antidiarrheal products, aspirin, and ibuprofen (such as Advil). Salicylates can increase bleeding from the intestines. Also, salicylates are associated with Reye syndrome, a rare but serious illness in children.

Prescription diarrhea medicines may be harmful when given to a person with E. coli infection. A doctor may prescribe one of these medicines if he or she does not know that E. coli caused the diarrhea. Be sure to discuss your symptoms with your doctor. Sharing information is important to get the proper diagnosis of your condition.

Avoid these prescription medicines if you have or think you may have an E. coli infection:

  • Difenoxin with atropine (Motofen)
  • Diphenoxylate with atropine (Lomotil)
  • Loperamide (prescription-strength Imodium)
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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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