E. Coli

What is it?

What is it and how is it caused?

E. Coli, short for Escherichia Coli, is a disease people mainly get when they consume contaminated meat or water. The bacteria in it enters your intestines and damages it. Fortunately, most varieties aren't fatal and can easily be recovered from, but there are a few severe types, mainly E. Coli 0157:H7 that causes severe symptoms (See "Symptoms"). Some more rare causes of the disease include swimming in dirty water and eating dirt. Cross-contamination of food is also a common cause.


Symptoms for most E. Coli viruses include abdominal cramping and maybe disorientation or nausea, but in more dangerous cases can also include vomiting, diarrhea that is usually bloody, and trouble urinating, along with the cramping. In a lot of cases, symptoms are like the flu.

Treatments and Cures

There aren't currently any vaccines or medical cures, but for most people, plenty of rest and consistent taking of fluids are all they need. It's kind of like the flu, they just stay home from work or school and just wait, and eventually it'll be gone. Anti-diarrhea medications ironically don't help because they can produce liver problems and other problems with the digestive system. Also, antibiotics aren't generally used, as they can cause serious complications. If victims have a more serious type of the disease, they'll be briefly hospitalized (See "Hospitalization"). But since most cases are pretty harmless, hospitalization isn't necessary.


There are lots of things people can do to keep from getting the disease. For example, cook hamburgers and steak really well, 160 degrees the recommended temperature. Also don't frequently order your steak as rare or even medium rare; medium is a safe way to go. Drinking unpasteurized milk or juice will increase the probability of ingesting the illness. Pasteurized means that chemicals are added to the drink to eliminate any bacteria that may be lingering in it. When a drink is unpasteurized, it's raw, so it isn't guaranteed to be totally safe for consumption. If you grow your own fruits and veggies, wash them before eating them. That gets rid of all the dirt and germs that are probably still on it. Now here's a big one: don't cross contaminate raw and cooked foods on the same cutting board or plate. This is a frequent cause of E. Coli. Use separate plates for raw and cooked foods. Also, wash the dishes thoroughly. Having good hygiene will also decrease your risk of contracting the disease.

Risk Factors

Some risk factors for contracting E. Coli could include vulnerable immune systems, because they can't defend themselves as well against bacteria. Consistent consumption of under-cooked meat poultry, decreased stomach acid levels, certain medications one might take that tires the defending cells, time of year, development of the area, and vulnerability of young children or old adults.

The Body

E. Coli originates mainly in the stomach of any cow. So when people butcher that part of the cow, they may not realize that it may be contaminated. If it gets past the butchers, then people eat it. When we eat it, the bacteria in the food follows through the digestive process and destroys blood vessels as they pass them. This is why bloody diarrhea can be a severe symptom. This is what mainly happens in E. Coli, but in more severe cases like E. Coli 0157:H7, it can get into our bloodstream, and once it does that, it can do all the damage it wants. The bacteria from the food then travels throughout our body and to all of our organs, which can be fatal. Most oftentimes, death occurs when the virus gets to our kidneys, and permanently damages them. Kidneys would take the most damage in this case. This would usually happen to people with HUS (Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome) which is a disease with the kidneys.


An estimated 73,000 cases of E. Coli occur annually throughout the country. That's like one case for every person in Iowa City. But out of the 73,000, only an average of 61 people end up dying. That tells you how seldom this disease is fatal. 2,100 hospitalizations are made annually in the USA. E. Coli a lot more frequent in other countries, though. It is present in all continents (Except Antarctica) and in 30 countries worldwide.

Similar diseases

There are disease that are pretty similar to E. Coli. Here's a list of some of them:

  • Salmonella - generally found in chicken and eggs, and can cause bad diarrhea and bone infections.
  • Trichnella Spiralis - found in under cooked meats, and symptoms are similar to the flu.
  • Vibrio - found in raw shellfish, symptoms similar to the flu, and can be fatal.
  • Cholera - very similar to E. Coli; found in contaminated water

Discovery of E. Coli

E. Coli was first discovered by Theodor Escherich in the late 1800s. The "Escherichia" in "Escherichia Coli" was based on him. In his research, he found that bacteria would live in our colons in the disease, so he figured bacteria was the culprit for E. Coli and its symptoms like diarrhea and digestive problems. It generally wasn't proclaimed as a disease to "be super careful about" because it really isn't a big problem, but after the very first case of E. Coli in Michigan and Oregon in 1982, a new type of strain known as E. Coli 0157:H7 was discovered. This particular type of the E. Coli virus was the most dangerous type in terms of fatality and symptoms, so research went further in. Scientists found that there were no traces of 0157:H7 found naturally in the human body, so it was presumed that it had invaded people's intestines.

All victims claimed that they had eaten hamburgers at the same restaurant chain, so it was proclaimed that tainted meats were the most common cause. According to later cases, contaminated water and veggies were added to the list.


1885- Theodor Escherich discovers E. Coli

1972- Congress passes the Clean Water Act, establishing waste-water treatment plants to ensure that polluted water doesn't enter our water supply

1982- The first case of E. Coli 0157:H7 in Michigan and Oregon, also the discovery

1991- Unpasteurized milk and juice is added to the list of cause when an outbreak occurs due to a brand of an unpasteurized apple juice brand.

1992 to 1993- Perhaps the largest outbreak yet- 55 people infected with E. Coli 0157:H7, four die.

1994- More outbreaks of contaminated milk occur in Scotland.


Victims with severe types of E. Coli will be hospitalized for at least a few days. All patients are given intensive care and IV fluids. They'll undergo kidney dialysis to see if there're any major problems with them, like HUS. Blood transfusions may be necessary, and their stools will be analyzed for the E. Coli they obtained.

Who's fault is it?

A lot of victims want someone to blame for getting sick. Who's fault is it? Well, let's start with chefs and cooks. They could be the blame for not cooking the food well enough. You could also blame the water supply, for not providing the town with clean water. Butchers could be at fault for not handling the meats carefully enough. People who wash your dishes could be the culprit for not washing the dishes well enough so they aren't clean enough. All of these people could be at fault, but do you want to know who's fault it REALLY is most of the time? Answer: yourself. It's usually your own fault, maybe because you didn't wash the dishes well enough, or maybe your asked for your steak rare, or maybe you didn't wash your hands to avoid all of this happening!

The First Outbreak

The very first outbreak, as you may already know, took place in Michigan and Oregon in 1982. Victims experienced bad cramping, abdominal pain, and uncontrollable and sometimes bloody diarrhea. Everybody was freaking out and they all thought they would die because they didn't know what was going on with them, since E. Coli 0157:H7 wasn't discovered till then. Doctors weren't even sure what this sickness was, so the CDC stepped in and finally discovered the 0157:H7.

Rockford, Illinois 1995

The case of Rockford only lasted a day. Five children ended up being hospitalized. Researchers couldn't find out how they got it at first, but after conduction interviews, they found out that all the kids were at the same local beach, and that they drank the lake water there.

British Columbia, California, and Washington 1996

A reported case of E. Coli 0157:H7 in Washington State, also appearing in British Columbia of Canada and California. It was determined that a brand of unpasteurized apple juice was the culprit. There were a total of 45 cases in all three places put together.

Tarrant County, Texas

A case of teenage girls falling ill at a cheerleading camp. The victims experience nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramping and bloody diarrhea. Although it was found out that the victims had E. Coli 0157:H7, it wasn't confirmed how they contracted the virus.

Albany, NY 1999

Ten children were hospitalized in this outbreak. Each child claimed to have attended a local county fair. Bloody diarrhea was the primary symptom, along with nausea and cramping. Their stools were analyzed and E. Coli 0157:H7 was found.

Washington, Idaho, California, Nevada 1992 - 1993

Perhaps the largest reported outbreak of E. Coli to ever occur in the United States: 55 people fell ill, and it was fatal to four people. E. Coli 0157:H7 was once again the culprit.

E. Coli in Iowa

E. Coli in Iowa, although certainly possible, is quite unlikely. The reason for that is because Iowans can rely on clean water almost anywhere within the state. Although there have been many outbreaks in Iowa in the past, they were very small, and the chances of it happening again is slim. The only areas where water isn't guaranteed safe is in the middle of the woods and there's drain water there, and of course, lake water. We can also rely on good butchering of our meats. So, as a result... probably not going to happen anytime soon.

Recent Outbreaks

A recent outbreak of a shiga toxin-producing E. Coli 0121 infection just ended recently. There were a total of nineteen infected people from six different states (California, Idaho, Michigan, Montana, Utah, Washington) About half of the victims were hospitalized, and research traces back to indications that contaminated raw clover sprouts were the cause. There were no deaths.


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