E. coli diarrhea
    
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E. coli diarrhea

Definition

E. coli enteritis is an inflammation of the small intestine caused by Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria.

Alternative Names

Traveler's diarrhea - E. coli; Food poisoning - E. coli; E. coli diarrhea; Hamburger disease

Causes

E. coli enteritis is a type of bacterial gastroenteritis. The symptoms are a result of toxins or bacterial invasion into the intestine. The incubation period (the time it takes for the germ to cause illness) is 24 - 72 hours. In adults, the infection is usually not severe. However, in children and infants, the infection frequently requires hospitalization and in some cases is life-threatening.

Certain types of E. coli infection are associated with hemolytic uremic syndrome, a disease marked by destruction of the red blood cells, drastic decrease in the platelets, and acute kidney failure.

Risk factors include recent family illness with E. coli, recent family illness with vomiting or diarrhea, eating unsanitary food, or drinking untreated or contaminated water. Travel to places that may not have clean drinking water is also a risk factor.

Symptoms

  • Diarrhea that is acute and severe, either bloody or not bloody
  • Stomach cramping
  • Gas
  • Vomiting (rare)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Abdominal pain
  • Fever

Exams and Tests

A stool culture grows disease-causing E. coli, which is tested in the laboratory to distinguish it from the normal helpful E. coli in your intestine.

Treatment

Cases usually clear up on their own in 1 - 3 days, and no treatment is required. Antidiarrheal drugs may delay the elimination of the germs from the digestive tract, and therefore may not be recommended.

Rehydration with electrolyte solutions may be necessary if dehydration from diarrhea occurs. People with diarrhea (especially in young children) who are unable to take oral fluids because of nausea may need medical attention and intravenous fluids.

People taking diuretics need to be cautious with diarrhea, and may need to stop taking the diuretic during the acute episode, as directed by the health care provider.

Avoid dairy products. They may make the diarrhea worse due to the temporary lactose intolerance that can arise.

Outlook (Prognosis)

The illness usually runs its course in a few days, without treatment.

Possible Complications

  • Dehydration
  • Prolonged diarrhea
  • Temporary lactose intolerance afterwards

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if you are unable to keep fluids down, if diarrhea does not go away in 3 - 4 days, or if you see blood in the stool.

Call your health care provider if you develop symptoms of dehydration, symptoms worsen or do not improve with treatment, or new symptoms develop.

Prevention

Careful handwashing may be helpful. Do not drink untreated or possibly contaminated food or water. Always cook meats well, especially ground meats. Cook meats at high enough temperatures to kill organisms.

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