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Report: E. coli in New Orleans Floodwater

Exposure May Pose Risk to Health
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What should people in the area do to prevent E. coli infection?

"No. 1, try to keep the water out of your mouth," Jackson says. "We're surrounded by E. coli all the time, and for the most part, as long as you don't ingest it, you're going to do just fine. If you ingest E. coli, there's not a whole lot you can do about it after the fact, and there's certainly no vaccination or anything of that nature.

"The real trick there, obviously, is ... if you're going to that area you want to make sure that you know how you're going to get clean water for yourself because that's probably in short supply."

How is E. coli diagnosed?

During the early phase of infection, large numbers of E. coli are excreted in the feces. Contaminated feces samples can be examined in the laboratory for diagnosis for infection-causing strains of E. coli.

How is E. coli infection treated?

The greatest concern in treating E. coli infection is to replace the fluids and electrolytes lost in the diarrhea. This can be done by mouth or by intravenous (IV) therapy in severe cases.

Antibiotics are also used to treat certain strains of E. coli.

In general, how can E. coli infection be prevented?

Since E. coli is more common in developing countries where sanitation is not as stringent, it's best to be particularly careful when traveling to certain areas.

  • Be careful about what fluids you drink.
  • Drink mineral and other processed water.
  • Drink bottled beverages.
  • Drink fruit juices.
  • Be careful about what foods you eat.
  • Eat breads.
  • Eat only fruits and vegetables that can be peeled.
  • Eat foods that are served steaming hot.

E. coli is one of the many reasons that restaurants often have a sign reminding employees to wash their hands before leaving the restroom.

If people have to walk through the floodwater, are there other things they should do?

Jackson says, "It would be a luxury, probably, to be able to wash your legs and pants off once you got out of that water so that you're not dragging that contaminated whatever around with you. If people have open lesions on their legs and their skin, and so forth, the potential for that to get infected is increased a bit. Again, that varies with the individual. If the person has diabetes, I would encourage them not to get involved in something like this because they're setting themselves up for problems. The average individual that's healthy otherwise is going to be able to walk in all sorts of nasty muck and they'll do just fine. Their legs will get wrinkled and white because they're in the water all that time, but they won't necessarily get any dreaded diseases from that."

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