E. coli food poisoning is a condition that occurs when a person consumes food or water that is contaminated with infection causing strains of E. coli bacteria. Some forms of E. coli bacteria in the intestines are normal and healthy, while certain varieties can cause an infection. Infectious strains are often found in cows and may be passed onto humans through contact with infected ground beef, dairy, or any other food items that may come into contact with the bacteria. Some people may not notice any symptoms when they eat or drink contaminated items, while others may experience symptoms any time from one to seven days after exposure.
After coming into contact with an infectious strain of E. coli bacteria, one of the most common symptoms that typically occurs is diarrhea. When the bacteria come into contact with the intestines, it releases toxins that irritate the lining of the small intestine, resulting in loose or watery stool. The severity and duration of the diarrhea will generally vary depending on the seriousness of the E. coli food poisoning. Children, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems tend to be the most likely to have severe diarrhea that may become bloody. Anti-diarrhea medications are usually not recommended if E. coli is suspected because the medications may affect the digestive system and allow the body to absorb even more of the toxins from the bacteria.
Another sign of E. coli food poisoning is abdominal pain. Since the strain of E. coli bacteria that causes an infection will generally irritate the digestive system, a person may feel pain in their abdominal region near where their intestines are located. The pain may range from slight tenderness to severe cramping and may also be accompanied with nausea and vomiting.
In certain individuals, E. coli food poisoning may cause complications with kidney functioning. Children and the elderly who are infected with the bacteria may develop hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a condition in which red blood cells are destroyed. The function of the kidneys is to filter out waste, such as old cells, but when an abnormally high amount of red blood cells are destroyed, it can cause the kidneys to become backed up and unable to function properly. If left untreated, HUS may result in kidney failure and may potentially be fatal.
For the majority of healthy people who contract E. coli food poisoning, treatment is not required. A doctor will generally recommend drinking fluids to prevent dehydration from diarrhea or vomiting, as well as to rest until the bacteria is removed from the body. If complications such as kidney malfunction occur, a treatment in which a machine mechanically acts like the kidneys and filters the blood, or a blood transfusion may be required to prevent kidney failure or death.