How Much Do You Know About E. Coli?

With people in Europe getting sick and dying, here's what you should know to keep yourself safe.

Posted: 06/07/2011 03:46 PM EDT

Officials in Germany are now reporting that the tests run on an organic farm north of the country have revealed that the bean sprouts previously believed to be the cause of the E. coli outbreak are not responsible.

 

Though further tests have been planned, 23 of the 40 samples gathered from the sprout farm have tested negative for the E. coli bacteria that has killed around 22 people and sickened over 2,300 throughout Europe.

 

E. coli is bacteria that can live in both human and animal digestive tracts. There are several kinds of the germ, and most of them won’t cause you any real harm. Though some, called enterohemorrhagic E. coli, can lead to bloody diarrhea. Another kind, which is commonly contracted, is called E. coli O157:H7 and can lead to kidney failure, anemia and eventually death.

 

In the case of infected raw vegetables, like what’s happening in Germany, this is most likely because the food has come in contact with infected animal feces at some point before it was sold and eaten.

 

Symptoms include pale skin, fever, weakness, bruising and passing only small amounts of urine. Usually E. coli will go away on its own. The best thing that you can do is keep yourself as comfortable as possible, focusing on drinking lots of fluids so you don’t get diarrhea. Allowing yourself to get dehydrated can be particularly dangerous for the elderly and small children.

 

In severe cases where the infection begins to affect an individual’s blood and kidneys, they could need dialysis or even blood transfusions.

 

E. coli-infected food or water can be hard to identify because a lot of the time it doesn’t smell or look out of the ordinary. But that doesn’t mean you can’t protect yourself. Here are seven suggestions from WebMD on how to avoid infection:

 

—Cook all types of beef, but especially ground beef, to at least 160°F (71°C).

 

—In the kitchen, wash your hands with hot, soapy water often, especially after you touch raw meat.

 

—Wash any tools or kitchen surfaces that have touched raw meat.

 

—Use only pasteurized milk, dairy and juice products.

 

—Use only treated, or chlorinated, drinking water.

 

—When you travel to countries that may have unsafe drinking water, don't use ice or drink tap water. Avoid raw fruits and vegetables, except those with skin that you peel yourself.

 

—Wash your hands often, and always wash them after you use the bathroom or change diapers.

(Photo: EPA/MATTHIAS BEIN/LANDOV)

From Our Partners