Most everyone has heard of the E. coli bacteria and the problems it can cause. Its full name is Escherichia coli, and when it gets into places it should not be in the human body it can cause some rather serious health issues.
About the E. Coli Bacteria
E.coli is normally found in animals and humans in the digestive tract. These bacteria normally help with digestion. When it is consumed, however, it can cause a number of serious problems. It is most commonly thought of when you hear of food recalls because it can cause food poisoning. Other common problems include urinary tract infections and pneumonia.
When you get food poisoning from a particular strain of E. coli identified as 0157:H7 – these bacteria are particularly nasty. It can cause many serious health problems, giving you some of the following E. coli symptoms, some of which will be life-threatening:
- Abdominal cramps
- Bloody diarrhea
- Kidney failure
In most cases, the symptoms of food poisoning with other types of E. coli will usually pass in about a week. With 0157:H7, the symptoms could start within a day, but often will not be seen until three or four days after being exposed to it. This form of E. coli infection can cause life-threatening conditions in younger children and in older adults.
The bacteria produce a toxin called Shiga, which is very powerful. When E. coli 0157:H7 is involved, it is known as a Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC). In the United States, there are about 265,000 cases each year. There is no cure for it and antibiotics may make it worse (antibiotics will help with some other forms of E. coli).
A Rare Case
Some time ago, a man who was 61 years old was exposed to E. coli 0157:H7. He had had a tooth extraction earlier and showed up at a dentist’s office with an infection in his jaw that would not heal after three months.
The dentist that performed the extraction removed some other teeth, but that did not help. His blood sugar was high and several biopsies did not reveal any cancer. After an examination, it was discovered that the jawbone on the one side of his face had died as a result of osteomyelitis, or bone infection. It had to be completely removed. The surgeon only used a little pressure and it immediately came out.
Starting the man on antibiotics led to the quick discovery that whatever was causing the problem was resistant to antibiotics. A bacteria culture revealed that it was E. coli 0157:H7. Other antibiotics were tried, but only two were found to be of any help. He was given strong antibiotics as an E. coli treatment and was placed on a feeding tube for a week for nutrition.
How to Avoid E. coli Bacteria
The above case is a very rare one, but it does reveal what could happen with E. coli. Taking some precautions to make sure that you and your children are not exposed to these bacteria is important. Some steps that you might take include:
- Be careful of undercooked ground beef
- Avoid produce or grains that have become contaminated from run-off water – wash it before eating
- Do not consume unpasteurized dairy products
- Wash your hands after being around someone who has an E. coli infection
- Do not swallow water in a river, pool, lake, or pond
- Wash hands after visiting a petting zoo
- Watch for cross-contamination – separate meat from non-meat foods
There are several situations that will raise your risk factors of having an E. coli infection. They include:
- The summer months of June through September.
- Eating foods that may contain E. coli bacteria – cook it to above 160 degrees F.
- Being real young or old
- Having a weakened immune system
- People with lower levels of stomach acid.
When to Call a Doctor
When young children are infected by E. coli 0157:H7, it can become very serious. The child or older adult may develop hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) which destroys the blood platelets and blood cells and may result in kidney failure. It may also be contagious if sanitary conditions are not maintained. It is a medical emergency.
If you find that you have sores in your mouth that are not healing after two weeks, you should see a dentist right away. While it is unlikely that it will be osteomyelitis caused by E. coli, it may be something else that is as serious, such as oral cancer. The dentist can identify the problem, and the sooner it is diagnosed, the better.