There'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 even result in kidney failure or other serious complications.
Luckily, most healthy kids who get the infection do not develop serious problems and recover on their own without needing treatment.
Some strains of E. coli are harmless and live naturally in human intestines. Others, such as E. coli O157:H7, are infectious and spread through contaminated food or water, or from other infected people or animals.
Most often, E. coli spreads when someone eats food that contains the bacteria. At-risk foods include undercooked ground beef (such as in hamburgers); produce grown in animal 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.
Some types of E. coli bacteria make a toxin (a poisonous substance) that can damage the lining of the small intestine. This can lead to bad stomach cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea (often with blood in it). When that happens, people can get dehydrated.
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 (peeing), a pale or swollen appearance, unexplained bruises, bleeding from the nose or gums, extreme tiredness, and seizures. HUS can be life threatening and requires treatment in a hospital.
A doctor might take a stool sample to look for E. coli bacteria. Blood tests may be used to check for possible complications.
Antibiotics aren't 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 need 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. Don't let kids use swimming pools or water slides until 2 weeks after their symptoms have gone away.
E. coli outbreaks have been tied to a wide variety of foods, such as fresh spinach, hamburgers, ground beef, bologna, hazelnuts, packaged cheeses, shredded lettuce, and prepackaged cookie dough.
Being careful 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.
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: July 2014
|Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) The CDC (the national public health institute of the United States) promotes health and quality of life by preventing and controlling disease, injury, and disability.|
|U.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.|
|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.|
|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.|
|Food Poisoning Did you ever eat something that made you feel ooky? It might have been food poisoning.|
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|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.|
|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.|
|Salmonella Infections Salmonellosis is a foodborne illness caused by the bacteria salmonella. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, fever, and headache.|
|Salmonellosis People often think of salmonellosis as food poisoning, but food is only one way the bacteria Salmonella 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.|
|Word! Diarrhea If you've ever had a bad time in the bathroom, then you know what this is.|
|Giardiasis Giardiasis, one of the chief causes of diarrhea in the United States, is an intestinal illness caused by a microscopic parasite.|
|Food Safety Learn why food safety is important and how you can avoid the spread of bacteria when you are buying, preparing, and storing food.|
|Campylobacter Infections These bacterial infections can cause diarrhea, cramping, abdominal pain, and fever. Good hand-washing and food safety habits can prevent them.|
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