Escherichia coli O157 (E. coli)

Escherichia coli O157:H7 (E. coli)Escherichia coli O157:H7 (called E. coli) is a bacterium that is found naturally in the intestines of cattle, poultry and other animals. Consuming undercooked ground beef, may result in a type of food poisoning that is commonly called hamburger disease. If people become infected with these bacteria, the infection can result in serious illness.

Image Content Provider: CDC/National Escherichia, Shigella, Vibrio Reference Unit at CDC / Photo Credit: Janice Haney Carr


Symptoms generally appear three to four days after a person becomes infected but can range from one to eight days. E. coli infection may cause mild to severe symptoms including watery diarrhea and stomach cramps. In severe cases, diarrhea may become bloody.


Hamburger disease is most often caused by eating or drinking contaminated food, especially undercooked hamburger or foods contaminated with raw or undercooked meat juices, unpasteurized milk and unpasteurized apple cider. Contaminated drinking water has also caused infections, as well as swimming in contaminated water (e.g. recreational water that drains cattle pastures.) Other manure-contaminated foods that are not cooked have also caused infection.

Infection can also be spread by direct contact with an infected person who may not get sick or show symptoms but carry the bacteria. The bacteriium is spread to others by not practicing good hand hygiene, especially after using the bathroom.


If a person has bloody diarrhea or symptoms of infection they should see their doctor. Drinking lots of fluids is important to stay hydrated. Antibiotics and anti-diarrheal drugs should not be used to treat this infection unless prescribed by a doctor. Most people recover within seven to 10 days, but a few people will develop Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS), an unusual type of kidney failure and blood disorder, which can be fatal.


E. coli can be prevented by protecting food and water from fecal contamination, by practicing good hand hygiene, especially after using the bathroom, following good food handling practices and by thoroughly cooking beef (especially hamburger) pork and poultry before eating.

Although everyone is susceptible to E. coli infection, young children, the elderly, pregnant women and individuals with weakened immune systems such as those living with AIDS or cancer, or transplant patients receiving immunosuppressive drugs are more at risk of developing serious complications.

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