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How do I get infected with E. coli?

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You can become infected if you swallow even a small amount of E. coli bacteria. Among the ways this can happen include:

You can also contaminate food in your own kitchen if you allow a knife or cutting board that has touched uncooked meat (like chicken) to come into contact with food that will be eaten raw (like a salad).

  • Ground meat: You eat ground meat that carries E. coli, and the meat wasn’t cooked enough to kill the bacteria. When meat is processed, sometimes bacteria from the animals’ intestines make their way into the meat. This happens more with ground meat because it comes from more than one animal.
  • Untreated milk: You drink unpasteurized milk, which hasn’t been heated to kill bacteria. E. coli can get into the milk from the cow’s udder or from milking equipment.
  • Vegetables and fruit: You might eat fresh vegetables or fruit that’s been tainted by water that has the bacteria. This happens most often when manure from nearby animals mixes with the water supply.
  • Other foods and beverages: You might also get E. coli from unpasteurized fruit juices and yogurt and cheese made from raw milk.
  • Water: You swallow water that contains E. coli, perhaps while swimming in a pool, lake, or pond.
  • Other people: You might get E. coli from another person who has it, such as a child. The bacteria can be passed to you if you clean up after an infected person and then don’t wash your hands really well before you touch your mouth.
  • Animals: It can be found at petting zoos or animal exhibits at fairs.

From: What is E. Coli? WebMD Medical Reference

SOURCES:

CDC: “E. coli.”

Johns Hopkins Health Library: “Escherichia coli O157:H7,” “Escherichia coli.”

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease: “E. coli.”

Mayo Clinic: “Diseases and Conditions -- E. coli.”

KidsHealth.org (Nemours Foundation): “E. coli.”

World Health Organization: “E. coli Fact Sheet.”

Reviewed by Sabrina Felson on December 21, 2016

SOURCES:

CDC: “E. coli.”

Johns Hopkins Health Library: “Escherichia coli O157:H7,” “Escherichia coli.”

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease: “E. coli.”

Mayo Clinic: “Diseases and Conditions -- E. coli.”

KidsHealth.org (Nemours Foundation): “E. coli.”

World Health Organization: “E. coli Fact Sheet.”

Reviewed by Sabrina Felson on December 21, 2016

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What are the symptoms of E. coli infection?

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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

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