About Escherichia coli (E. coli)
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that E. coli foodborne illness affects approximately 73,000 people in the United States each year, causing 2,000 hospitalizations and 61 deaths.E. coli O157:H7 is just one of hundreds of strains of the bacterium Escherichia coli. It was first recognized as a cause of enteric disease in 1982, following an outbreak of severe bloody diarrhea. It was later traced to contaminated hamburgers. The disease is typically characterized by severe diarrhea (often bloody) and abdominal cramps. E. coli O157:H7 produces a powerful toxin and can cause severe illness. Children and the elderly are at greatest risk for complications resulting from E. coli O157:H7 infection.
E. coli foodborne illness is most often associated with eating undercooked, contaminated ground beef and other meat products. Other sources of infection include contaminated, non-pasteurized milk and juice, sprouts, leafy greens such as lettuce and spinach, swimming in sewage-contaminated lakes and pools, and drinking inadequately chlorinated water.
Person-to-person contact in families, childcare centers, and nursing homes is also an important mode of transmission. Bacteria in the stools of infected individuals can be passed from one person to another if hygiene or handwashing habits are inadequate.
If you suspect that you are suffering from a foodborne illness, it is important to contact your doctor and your county board of health. A diagnosis of E. coli foodborne illness is confirmed by performing a stool culture that can detect the presence of the pathogenic bacterium.
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