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What is E.coli?

E.coli is a large and diverse form of bacteria. Some forms can cause illness, and some strains do not cause illness. Some types of E.coli can cause diarrhea, urinary tract infections, respiratory sickness, and other illnesses.

What are Shiga toxin-producing E.coli (STEC)?

Some E.coli produce a Shiga toxin which causes disease.

Who is at risk for STEC infections?

Everybody is at risk for STEC infections, although younger children and the elderly are most susceptible.

What are the symptoms of STEC?

Some people experience mild symptoms, but others may be more severe. Symptoms show between 1 hour and 10 days. In rare cases (about 5-10%), patients may develop a potentially life-threatening complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which can cause infrequent urination, extreme tiredness, and loss of color in the cheeks and eyelids. Patients should seek hospital treatment immediately, as HUS can cause kidney failure if left untreated. Symptoms of STEC include:

  • Severe stomach cramps
  • (Bloody) diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Low fever

How is STEC transmitted?

STEC is transmitted when a person swallows even a small amount of human or animal feces. This can be through meat, unpasteurized dairy/juice products, and contaminated water. It can be spread by swallowing lake water, touching animals, or consuming food that was prepared by someone that did not wash their hands after using the toilet.

How common are STEC infections?

About 265,000 people a year get STEC infections. However, many people do not provide stool samples for testing or report their illness, so there are many more cases per year that go unreported.

How are STEC infections diagnosed?

STEC can be diagnosed through a stool sample. These samples are critical for determining E.coli outbreaks.  Contact your healthcare provider if you experience severe symptoms.  People can be infected for weeks at a time.

How are STEC infections treated?

There is no specific treatment for managing STEC infections. The best way to treat a STEC infection is to remain very hydrated.

How can I prevent STEC infections?

  • Wash your hands after using the restroom, changing diapers, handling food, and touching animals.
  • Cook meat thoroughly
  • Avoid unpasteurized diary and juice products
  • Avoid swallowing water when swimming in lakes, pools, etc.
  • Prevent cross contamination of foods

For more information on E.coli infections, outbreaks, and causes, visit http://www.cdc.gov/ecoli/index.html.