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E. Coli Bacteria Infection: Symptoms, Treatment, And Prevention

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After a string of infections was confirmed in the United States, the CDC sent a warning of the risks of E. coli from romaine lettuce. Reports share more information about the bacteria to raise awareness on the outbreak.  ( Frederic J. Brown | AFP/Getty Images )

The last time E. coli made headlines was back in 2006, but the latest wave of infections is supposedly even worse, which calls for the public to be well-informed to help keep it from spreading.

A Risk With Fresh Produce

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's investigation pinpointed romaine lettuce sourced from farms in Yuma, Arizona as the cause of the outbreak. Data taken from the CDC's official website lists the total number of recorded cases as 121 (based on the last posted update on May 2).

So far, 25 states are affected by the outbreak, which already resulted in 52 hospitalizations. The first recorded death was in California, but details have yet to be provided by state and federal health officials.

Controlling The Infections

In an attempt to curb the number of additional infections, the CDC encourages people to avoid romaine lettuce for now. CDC advises against its consumption unless buyers are assured that the product is not from Yuma, Arizona.

Supermarkets and restaurants are also expected to verify with their suppliers if the products they order are safe. Since the vegetable is commonly eaten raw, most people think that a quick wash automatically makes it safe to eat. Studies show that the E. coli bacteria can apparently enter the lettuce leaf, which cannot be removed simply by washing.

E. Coli And The Symptoms Of An Infection

According to research, there are several varieties of E. coli bacteria and they are naturally found in the intestines of healthy people and animals. Depending on the strain, someone might experience mild diarrhea or nothing at all.

However, others like the 0157:H7, also referred to as an STEC strain, cause bloody diarrhea, painful abdominal cramps, and vomiting. Shiga toxin-producing E. coli can have different effects depending on the person infected. Indications of an infection usually occur three to four days after ingestion of food tainted with the bacteria.

Patients who experience diarrhea for more than three days along with other indicators like bloody stool, high fever, poor urine production, and vomiting to the point that it is difficult to keep down liquids, are encouraged to contact their healthcare provider.

A small percentage of people diagnosed with STEC infection can develop a life-threatening complication known as HUS (Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome). Those who are diagnosed with HUS should be closely monitored in case their kidneys cease to function. Hospitalization is usually recommended by medical experts.

Treatment Options Available

In order to determine if the patient has an E. coli infection, the doctor may order an analysis of a stool sample. In most cases, the infection normally goes away on its own. Antibiotics might be prescribed in some cases, which reportedly ease some of the symptoms.

Yet, if the tests confirm that the infection is from an STEC strain, antibiotics are discouraged due to the risk of increased Shiga toxin production. Patients should get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids during the recovery period.

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