Approximately 100 strains of Escherichia coli bacteria are identified till date. One of the E. coli facts is that several strains of this bacterium are present in the human intestine as harmless commensals. Infection by a virulent E. coli bacterium occurs via ingestion of contaminated foods and beverages.
At the first mention of bacteria, we tend to visualize tiny microbes that cause several types of diseases, both internally and externally. Escherichia coli (abbreviated as E. coli) is a commonly occurring, gram negative, non-sporulating, rod-shaped and facultative anaerobic bacterium. The genus name is coined in honor of Theodor Escherich, who isolated this bacterium for the first time in 1919. E. coli facts about living in different substrates, diversity in the genotype and genome sequencing have been studied globally.
Facts about E. Coli Bacteria
In humans and warm-blooded animals, it is beneficial to control entry of other microbes. Identified as a gut flora, there are several types of E. coli. While some are useful or harmless to humans, there are also many virulent strains. The pathogenic types are mostly found in contaminated water and foods, especially the raw and undercooked items. And mild to serious ailments are resulted due to infection by these E. coli bacteria.
Some E. coli facts and information are discussed below:
- Escherichia coli along with a group of other bacteria are collectively known as fecal coliforms. Despite the name, they may or may not originate from feces. Hence their presence in water doesn’t necessarily mean that the water source is contaminated with fecal matter.
- E. coli enters and colonizes the intestinal tract of a baby within 40 hours of birth. The roots of entry are food, water or from the caretakers who handle the baby. The bacterium then makes its way to the mucosa lining of the bowel.
- E. coli in the gastrointestinal tract of infants, children and adults are non-pathogenic in most cases. They are benign and remain harmless. However, these intestinal bacteria may become virulent after acquiring genetic elements, which are responsible for causing infections.
- In most food poisoning cases, this bacterium enters the body after consuming contaminated foods, drinking contaminated water and swimming in public pools. Transmission of E. coli bacteria from an infected person to another is rare, and occurs due to improper sanitation.
- As with other types of bacterial infection, pathogenic E. coli after making their way to the bodily system produces harmful toxins in large amounts. It is these toxins that cause bloody diarrhea, digestive symptoms, hemolytic-uremic syndrome, kidney failure and other medical complications.
- Depending upon the site of infection and population strength, pathogenic E. coli may cause mild to life-threatening diseases. Infection by E. coli is associated with food poisoning, traveler’s diarrhea, urinary tract diseases, pneumonia, bacteremia, neonatal meningitis and cholangitis.
- Typical E. coli symptoms present with gastrointestinal infection are diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea and vomiting. As these mimic other digestive problems, patients are not bothered leading to delayed diagnosis of E. coli infection. In children and weak people, it worsens to severe diarrhea and kidney problems.
- E. coli food poisoning is reported in people of all age groups. While healthy adults recover from this bacterial infection after about 7 days episode, E. coli infection treatment is necessary for people with a weak immune system, like children, patients and elderly people.
- Needless to remind, therapeutic intervention of E. coli infection is administering a complete course of antibiotic medications. Within a few days of the antibacterial therapy, symptoms will improve gradually. Till date, there is no reliable cure for E. coli bacteria infection.
- The treatment for E. coli food poisoning is aimed at making the afflicted patient comfortable and preventing dehydration (a complication of severe diarrhea and vomiting). During the disease episode, one should drink lots of healthy fluids to replenish lost water.
- The recent Escherichia coli outbreak in Germany is caused due to infection by the STEC (shiga toxin-producing E. coli) strain, E. coli O104. In the epidemic, 17 people lost their lives, and more than 1,500 people experienced severe infection symptoms, requiring them to undergo serious therapeutic intervention.
- There are three more toxic producing E. coli strains, and E. coli O157:H7 is one of them. This is found in the fecal matter of poultry, pigs, deer and cattle. In short, the presence of this pathogenic E. coli in farmyard compost is quite obvious. Thus, consuming raw fruits and veggies increase the probability of E. coli infection.
As per the CDC (Center for Disease Control) United States, the only approach to prevent severe infection caused by virulent E. coli is to identify the sources and avoid them as far as possible. With reference to lethal infection caused by STEC strain E. coli O157:H7, the prime cause is eating undercooked and contaminated beef. Irrespective of the strain, measures to prevent E. coli infection include maintaining hygiene, cooking meat properly and avoiding contaminated foods and beverages.