E. Coli

E. Coli

Lea este articulo en EspanolThere's nothing like a hamburger with all the trimmings when you're hungry or a cool, refreshing cup of juice on a hot day. But when that burger is undercooked or the juice is not pasteurized, it could cause a nasty E. coli infection.

Infections due to Escherichia coli bacteria can cause severe, bloody diarrhea. Some cases can result in kidney failure or other serious complications. Fortunately, most healthy kids who get the infection recover on their own without the need for treatment.

How It Spreads

While some strains of E. coli are harmless and naturally live in human intestines, others, such as E. coli O157:H7, are infectious and spread through contaminated food or water, or from other infected people.

Most often, E. coli is transmitted when someone eats food that contains the bacteria. At-risk foods include undercooked ground beef (such as in hamburgers); produce grown in manure of cows, sheep, goat, or deer or washed in contaminated water; and unpasteurized dairy or juice products.

The bacteria also can spread from person to person on unwashed hands and surfaces, by swimming in contaminated water, and from touching animals at farms or petting zoos.

Symptoms & Complications

Some types of E. coli bacteria make a toxin (a poisonous substance) that can damage the lining of the small intestine, leading to bad stomach cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea (often with blood in it), and as a result dehydration is common.

Symptoms usually start 3-4 days after exposure and end within about a week. An infection is contagious for at least as long as the person has diarrhea, and sometimes longer.

Most kids recover completely, although some develop a serious kidney and blood problem called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). Signs of HUS include decreased urination, a pale or swollen appearance, unexplained bruises, bleeding from the nose or gums, fatigue, and seizures. HUS can be life threatening and requires treatment in a hospital.

Treatment

A doctor might take a stool sample to detect the presence of E. coli bacteria. Blood tests may be used to check for possible complications.

Antibiotics have not been found to be helpful in treating infections caused by E. coli O157:H7 and can, in fact, be harmful. Likewise, anti-diarrheal medicines can increase the risk of complications and should not be used.

Kids with an E. coli infection should rest as much as possible and drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration. Those who are dehydrated might need to be hospitalized to get IV fluids, and those with HUS may require dialysis for kidney failure and/or blood transfusions.

While recovering from an infection, kids can resume normal activities after two stool cultures are free of the bacteria. Refrain from letting kids use swimming pools or water slides until 2 weeks after their symptoms have gone away.

Prevention

E. coli outbreaks have been related to a wide variety of foods, such as fresh spinach, hamburgers, ground beef, bologna, hazelnuts, packaged cheeses, shredded lettuce, and prepackaged cookie dough.

Being vigilant about safe food preparation can go a long way toward protecting your family from E. coli infections:

Teach your kids the importance of regular, thorough hand washing, especially after going to the bathroom, touching animals, or playing outside, and before eating or preparing food. They should avoid swallowing water while swimming.

When to Call the Doctor

Call your doctor if your child has any symptoms of an E. coli infection, especially stomach pain or persistent, severe, or bloody diarrhea.

Call immediately if your child shows signs of dehydration, such as decreased urination. Also call immediately if your child has signs of hemolytic uremic syndrome, especially after a recent gastrointestinal illness.

Reviewed by: Larissa Hirsch, MD
Date reviewed: August 2011





Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

© 1995-2014 The Nemours Foundation/KidsHealth. All rights reserved.





Bookmark and Share

Related Resources
OrganizationCenters for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) The mission of the CDC is to promote health and quality of life by preventing and controlling disease, injury, and disability. Call: (800) CDC-INFO
OrganizationU.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) The FDA is responsible for protecting the public health by ensuring the safety, efficacy, and security of human and veterinary drugs, biological products, medical devices, our nation's food supply, cosmetics, and products that emit radiation.
Related Articles
Word! Diarrhea If you've ever had a bad time in the bathroom, then you know what this is.
Salmonellosis Salmonellosis is the medical term for any illness caused by a type of bacteria called Salmonella. People often think of salmonellosis as food poisoning, but food is only one way this bacteria can be spread.
Salmonellosis Salmonellosis is an illness caused by a bacteria found in raw food, soil, water and the bowel movements of some animals, including reptiles. Find out how to prevent this illness.
Food Safety Food safety means more than keeping your hands away from a whirring blade - it means knowing how to avoid spreading bacteria, knowing how to shop safely, and more.
Giardiasis Giardiasis, one of the chief causes of diarrhea in the United States, is an intestinal illness caused by a microscopic parasite.
What Are Germs? Germs are the microscopic bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa that can cause disease. With a little prevention, you can keep harmful germs out of your family's way.
Salmonella Infections Salmonellosis is a foodborne illness caused by the bacteria salmonella. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, fever, and headache.
Yersiniosis Yersiniosis is an uncommon infection caused by the consumption of undercooked meat products, unpasteurized milk, or water contaminated by the bacteria.
Campylobacter Infections These bacterial infections can cause diarrhea, cramping, abdominal pain, and fever. Good hand-washing and food safety habits can prevent them.
Food Poisoning Did you ever eat something that made you feel ooky? It might have been food poisoning.
Gastrointestinal Infections and Diarrhea Nearly everybody gets diarrhea every once in a while, and it's usually caused by gastrointestinal infections. It's nothing to be embarrassed about. Read this article to learn more.
E. Coli E. coli is a common type of bacteria that can make you pretty sick. Read more in this article for kids.
Diarrhea Most kids battle diarrhea from time to time, so it's important to know what to do to relieve and even prevent it.
Why Should I Care About Germs? Germs are tiny organisms that can cause disease - and they're so small that they can creep into your system without you noticing. Find out how to protect yourself.
Shigellosis Shigellosis is an intestinal infection caused by bacteria that can give a person bloody diarrhea and cause intestinal pain. Good hand washing is the best way to prevent shigellosis.
Being Safe in the Kitchen Cooking and baking are lots of fun - as long as you stay safe. Read this article for safety tips before you head into the kitchen.
iGrow iGrow
Sign up for our parent enewsletter