Is the E. Coli Outbreak in Europe of Concern to North Carolinians?

Is the Enterohemorrhagic E. Coli Outbreak in Europe of Concern to North Carolinians?

A new terrorist has found itself in the headlines of the world news: E. Coli.

22 dead and more than 2200 made grievously ill, E. coli is a common cause of traveler’s diarrhea. However, this strain of E. coli is not so common and has never produced an epidemic before. To add to our fears, this bacteria has possibly transported itself on organically grown bean sprouts. Most E. coli is harmless and is found in human and animal feces. Farmers growing vegetables, but located near livestock farms can sometimes be victims to runoff from livestock farms, which can contaminate the crops and produce E. coli outbreaks such as this one.

Though cases have now been reported in 12 European countries and the United States, nearly all have occurred among people with recent travel to northern Germany, or who received visitors from that region.

E. coli is a type of bacteria that normally lives in the intestines of humans and animals without causing any fuss. However, certain strains of E. coli (such as E. coli 0157:H7) can cause severe food poisoning. The strain found in Germany is E. coli 0104:H4, an old strain that has not previously caused an epidemic according to the Robert Koch Institute in Germany.

David Elder, director of regional operations for the Food and Drug Administration, said produce in the United States “remains safe, and there is no reason for Americans to alter where they shop, what they buy, and where they eat. The U.S. food supply is not in jeopardy.”

Symptoms

The time between being infected and developing symptoms is usually 24-72 hours.

Sudden, severe, and often bloody diarrhea is the most common symptom.

Other symptoms may include: fever, gas, loss of appetite, abdominal cramps, and rarely, vomiting.

Symptoms of severe E. coli infection include: easy bruising, blood in the urine, decreased urination.

Exams and Tests

The health care provider will examine you and a stool culture can be done to check for E. coli.

Treatment

The symptoms usually clear up on their own within 1-3 days, and no treatment is required.

Anti-diarrheal medications are not recommended.

Rehydrating with electrolyte solutions is required, and if you are not able to take fluids orally because of nausea then intravenous fluids will be needed.

Complications

Certain types of E. coli can cause severe anemia or even kidney failure.

When to see a Medical Professional

Go to the FastMed Urgent Care if:

  • You are unable to keep fluids down
  • Diarrhea does not go away in 3-4 days
  • You see blood in your stool
  • You develop dehydration
  • You develop new symptoms

Prevention

Careful hand washing is important. 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 bacteria.

Melvin Lee MD
Chief Medical Officer, FastMed Urgent Care

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