Can E. Coli O157:H7 Infection Cause Serious Health Problems?
Yes. In some people, particularly children under the age of 5 and the elderly, the E. coli infection can cause a serious complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome. Hemolytic uremic syndrome causes the destruction of red blood cells and kidney failure. About 2%-7% of infections lead to this complication, according to the CDC.
How Is E. Coli O157:H7 Infection Diagnosed and Treated?
If you think you may have been exposed to the E. coli infection, see your doctor. By testing a sample of stool, the bacteria can be identified. It is recommended by the CDC that all those who have sudden, bloody diarrhea get their stool tested for this type of E. coli.
Most people recover on their own within about five to 10 days.
Hemolytic uremic syndrome is a medical emergency and most often will be treated in an intensive care unit.
How Is E. Coli O157:H7 Infection Prevented?
You can prevent E. coli infection by thoroughly cooking ground beef, avoiding unpasteurized milk, and washing hands carefully after handling meat, using the bathroom, or changing diapers.
What Is Listeria Infection?
Listeria is a bacteria primarily found in soil and water. According to the CDC, vegetables can become contaminated from soil or from manure used as fertilizer. Animals carrying the bacterium can also contaminate food. Listeria has been found in many types of uncooked foods, such as meats and vegetables, as well as in processed foods that become contaminated after processing, such as soft cheeses (like feta and crumbled blue cheese) and cold cuts.
Unpasteurized milk or foods made from unpasteurized milk may also be sources of listeria infection. Listeria is killed by pasteurization, and heating procedures used to prepare ready-to-eat processed meats should be sufficient to kill the bacterium. However, unless good manufacturing practices are followed, contamination can occur even after processing.
According to the CDC, an estimated 2,500 people in the U.S. become seriously ill from a listeria infection each year, and of these, 500 will die. The CDC reports that those at increased risk for developing listeriosis include:
- Pregnant women.
- People with weakened immune systems.
- People with cancer, diabetes, or kidney disease.
- People with AIDS.
- People, such as those with asthma, who take steroid medications.
- The elderly.
Symptoms of a listeria infection can include:
- Muscle aches
If listeria infection spreads to the nervous system (brain and spinal cord), the following symptoms can occur:
- Stiff neck
- Loss of balance
Infected pregnant women may experience only a mild, flu-like illness; however, infection during pregnancy can lead to premature delivery, infection of the newborn, or even stillbirth. There is no routine screening test to find out if you are likely to contract listeria infection during pregnancy. If you have symptoms of listeriosis, consult your doctor immediately.