Causes And Risk Factors For E. Coli Infection

August 31, 2023

Escherichia coli (E. coli) are bacteria that normally live in the intestines of both humans and animals. While most strains of E. coli are harmless, some cause a variety of serious illnesses. Common infections caused by a harmful strain of E. coli include cholangitis, bacteremia, cholecystitis, pneumonia, neonatal meningitis, traveler's diarrhea, and urinary tract infections. Nausea and vomiting, abdominal cramping or pain, and mild to severe cases of diarrhea (watery and sometimes accompanied with blood) may be experienced one day up until a week after exposure to E. coli O157: H7, the strain which causes harm to the body.

Contaminated Food Or Water

The most common way individuals acquire an E. coli infection is by ingesting contaminated food or water. Consuming undercooked meat such as pork, lamb, and especially beef puts you at greater risk of contracting this infection. Because E. coli derives in the stomach region of warm-blooded mammals, the bacteria can make its way into the meat during the slaughtering process or as meat is being packaged. It is important to cook your meat thoroughly to kill off the bacteria before eating.

Drinking water as well as the water in swimming pools, ponds, lakes, and water wells (primarily in rural areas) may also be contaminated with the bacteria. Water may become polluted when there is a sewage malfunction or overflow, or if an agricultural or polluted stormwater run-off has occurred. Avoid drinking unfiltered water or swimming in pools that have not been recently treated with chlorine. Unfortunately, fresh produce may also carry damaging strains of E. coli. This is usually the case if the vegetables or fruit have been grown in cow manure or exposed to contaminated water. Wash produce thoroughly before consumption to remove any harmful bacteria.

Person To Person

Because some strains of E. coli are contagious, the bacteria can be transmitted via person to person contact. Normal interactions with individuals such as hugging, kissing, sneezing, or coughing typically aren't risk factors. The true culprits are unsanitary practices and hand to mouth contact. Since this bacteria lingers in the intestinal area, any contact with fecal matter can cause this type of infection. Not properly washing your hands after using the restroom and proceeding to prepare another's food can result in you infecting them with E. coli even if you aren't infected. Proceeding with dirty hands after changing a baby's diaper is also a way to infect yourself. As a preventative measure, always sanitize your hands after touching any degree of fecal matter to avoid infecting yourself or others.

Contact With Infected Animals

Contact with infected animals can pass E. coli to humans as well. Warm-blooded animals like cows, goat, sheep, and deer are commonly affected. They are introduced to this bacteria by coming into contact with their own stool or that of other animals. It is an ordinary occurrence for certain animals to have contracted an E. coli infection and still look relatively healthy. Once they have contracted this infection, they may carry the bacteria on their fur, feathers, and even contaminate their living area making the other animals ill as well. After visiting petting zoos or farms, it is important to clean your hands as you may have unknowingly come into contact with the bacteria.

Consuming Specific Foods

Consuming specific foods have been linked to E. coli outbreaks. Firstly, consuming any food served in a restaurant setting is a bit risky regarding e.coli transmission. This is often the matter due to common unhygienic practices of many restaurants. The consumption of unpasteurized milk, fruit juice, or cider can carry E. coli as it has not undergone the proper sterilization process that typically kills off harmful bacteria. Poor packaging and handling of deli meats cause them to be commonly contaminated, so pay attention to expiration dates on packaging to reduce the risk of the bacteria spreading. Heating your foods can kill off e. coli as well. Sprouts, fruits, and vegetables, especially those grown near a livestock farm may be grown in soil contaminated with E. coli.

Weakened Immune System

A weakened immune system will make it much easier for E. coli to cause havoc within the body. The immune system is the body's natural defense system against harmful viruses, bacteria, and other infected invaders. When it has been compromised or is failing to work properly, the body is more prone to infection and other illnesses. Having a weak immune system will not automatically result in an E. coli infection, but it can make you more susceptible to one. When E. coli comes in contact with the body, a healthy immune system will work to directly kill the bacteria and create antibodies, so the body recognizes the pathogen in the future.

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