The foodborne illness lawyers at Neblett, Beard & Arsenault promote food safety through legal advocacy, information outreach and analysis of food poisoning outbreaks.
E. coli O157:H7 causes severe bloody diarrhea and painful abdominal cramps. In about 5% of cases, a complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) can occur after the initial symptoms.
A 2009 Consumer Reports investigation revealed that 67% of broiler chickens had tested positive for Salmonella and Campylobacter.
E. coli (Escherichia coli) spp.
Breaking News: E. coli 0145 Outbreak Linked to Romaine Lettuce
What is E. coli (Escherichia coli)?
E. coli is a species of bacteria with numerous serotypes and subspecies. Typically, E. coli is found in the intestines and feces of mammals and while most E. coli are harmless, even beneficial, there are some strains, such as E. coli O157:H7, that can cause respiratory illness, urinary tract infections and severe diarrheal illness in humans.
What are E. coli O157:H7 and STEC?
Some of the most dangerous E. coli belong to a group called STEC or Shiga Toxin producing E. coli. STEC produce a powerful toxin that attacks the lining of the intestines and can pass into the blood and cause the disease Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS), a serious blood clotting condition. According to the CDC, E. coli O157:H7 is the most common STEC that people encounter. Normally found in cow intestines and feces, E. coli O157:H7 can be a dangerous and deadly bacterium when ingested by humans.
What are the illnesses associated with E. coli O157:H7 and STEC?
Enterohemorrhagic colitis is the illness caused by E. coli O157:H7 and other STEC bacteria, but not every infection of STEC is diagnosed as enterohemorrhagic colitis. Several different diarrheal illnesses, including other foodborne illnesses, share the common symptoms of enterohemorrhagic colitis. Sometimes in situations where no tests are run, the E. coli bacteria are not detected or bloody diarrhea is not confirmed, a doctor might diagnose enterohemorrhagic colitis as acute colitis, enteritis, gastritis or gastroenteritis.
How are E. coli O157:H7 and STEC transmitted?
Sources that have been known to transmit STEC or E. coli O157:H7 include:
- Contaminated Foods
- Untreated drinking water that has been compromised with sewage or farm runoff
- Cross contamination from handling infected foods
- Person to person transmission through poor hand washing and hygiene practices
What foods are most at risk for E. coli O157:H7 and STEC contamination?
- Beef (especially ground beef)
- Raw milk
- Untreated water
- Vegetables and fruits grown in STEC contaminated soil
Foods contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 and STEC do not have an odor and look normal, without testing there is no way to determine if a food is harboring the foodborne bacteria.
Cows can harbor E. coli O157:H7 without showing any signs of illness. During the slaughtering process, the intestines and feces of the cow come into contact with the meat of the cow.
Drinking water can be a source for STEC and E. coli O157:H7 contamination if farm runoff compromises the water, especially if the drinking water is not chlorinated or from a private source.
Unhygienic food handling practices can also spread STEC and E. coli O157:H7. Food handlers who ignore hand washing rules or food safety rules can unwittingly pass along the bacteria.
What can you do to help avoid STEC and E. coli O157:H7?
- Follow simple hand washing and proper hygiene practices
- Avoid eating raw or undercooked beef, especially ground beef
- Avoid consuming unpasteurized raw milk or foods made from raw milk such as cheese and ice cream
- Avoid drinking untreated drinking water
- Clean and sanitize hands, utensils and surfaces after handling foods that are at risk for STEC and E. coli O157:H7 contamination
- Separate foods from each other before the foods can be properly cooked
- Do not eat foods prepared by someone infected with E. coli
These safety suggestions can be helpful at controlling the cross contamination threats posed by a contaminated food product, but the only way to assure you are safe from foodborne illness is to never contact a contaminated food product in the first place.
According to the CDC, the responsibility of food safety does not rest in the hands of the consumer. Quoting the CDC’s website,” In the end, it is up to the consumer to demand a safe food supply; up to industry to produce it; up to researchers to develop better ways of doing so; and up to government to see that it happens, to make sure it works and to identify problems still in need of solutions.”
Who is at the greatest risk for STEC and E. coli O157:H7 infection?
All people who are exposed to STEC and E. coli O157:H7 pathogens are at risk of contracting a STEC and E. coli O157:H7 infection, but for some individuals, STEC and E. coliO157:H7 exposure can pose a serious danger. Children, the elderly and the immune compromised are all at greater risk of developing STEC and E. coil O157:H7 poisoning and these individuals are also at greater risk of developing debilitating and dangerous complications from a STEC and E. coli O157:H7 infection.
What are the symptoms of STEC and E. coli O157:H7 poisoning?
Onset of STEC and E. coli O157:H7 infection occurs about 3 to 4 days after ingesting the E. coli pathogen, but may be as little as 1 day or as long as 10 days. Symptoms of the illness include:
- Diarrhea (which can be bloody)
- Nausea / Vomiting
- Abdominal cramping
- Mild fever
Individuals may be infected with STEC or E. coli O157:H7 and show no signs of illness. For those who become ill, most experience about 5 to 7 days of illness from STEC or E. coli O157:H7 poisoning and generally the illness resolves without intervention, but for a few victims, the illness can develop into severe and life threatening complications.
What are the complications that can occur from a STEC or E. coli O157:H7 infection?
STEC or E. coli O157:H7 infections are typically not serious illnesses and usually resolve without complications or serious long term effects but for some victims, STEC or E. coli O157:H7 poisoning is just the beginning of their problems. Some of the complications that can occur from E. coli poisoning include:
- Hospitalization due to severe symptoms
- Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS)
- Organ failure
- Sepsis (septicemia), sometimes referred to as blood poisoning
What other types of E. coli cause illness in humans?
In addition to E. coli 0157, there are other kinds of E. coli that cause illness in humans. The strains are sometimes called “non-0157 STEC.” Along with E. coli 0157, these serogroups most often cause illness in the United States:
- E. coli 026
- E. coli 0111
- E. coli 0124
- E. coli 0103
Advocating for Food Safety
The foodborne illness lawyers at Neblett, Beard & Arsenault promote food safety through legal advocacy, information outreach and analysis of food poisoning outbreaks. The food poisoning attorneys at Neblett, Beard & Arsenault have helped people harmed by contaminated foods or beverages, including clients in Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana and across the country.
If you or a loved one has suffered serious complications from a foodborne illness, please contact Neblett, Beard & Arsenault for a free evaluation of your case. Contact our firm by calling 1-800-256-1050 or use our online contact form.