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Facts About...

E. COLI 0157:H7

What is it?

E. coli (short for Escherichia coli) are bacteria which can cause several human diseases. Bloody diarrhea is the most noteworthy symptom of E. coli 0157:H7 infection.

E. coli 1057:H7, a specific strain of these bacteria, is a reportable disease and must be reported to the Health Department.

How is it spread?

E. coli bacteria are found in the intestines of cattle. The infective dose is low (approximately 100 organisms). Meat, food, milk or water supplies may become contaminated through contact with the feces of infected animals. Once humans become infected, they can become a source for further spread. Outbreaks of E. coli 0157:H7 infections have occurred with undercooked hamburger, unpasteurized milk, juices and ciders, grocery produce and contaminated water in swimming pools and lakes. Poor personal hygiene, especially inadequate hand washing after defecating or changing a diaper can spread the bacteria from the hands of one infected person to the mouth of another person (fecal-oral transmission). Contact with animals and their environments, including petting zoos may lead to human infection.

What do I look for?

Symptoms of E. coli 0157:H7 infections often begin with non-bloody diarrhea but usually progress to bloody diarrhea. Severe abdominal pain is typical and fever occurs in approximately one third of cases. The disease is often severe and may require hospitalization. The elderly and children are at highest risk. In particular, children under 5 years of age can develop a serious complication called Haemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS). HUS is associated with bloody urine, inability to urinate and kidney failure. Deaths from complications of the infection can occur.

The incubation period for E. coli 0157:H7 infection is 2-10 days with an average of 3-4 days.

How can I protect myself?

Wash your hands after defecation and changing diapers. Also, wash your hands before and after handling and eating food. Ensure hands are washed for a minimum of 15 seconds with warm water and soap and dry with a single use towel.

Infected persons must not be employed to handle food, or provide child care or patient care until diarrhea has resolved and two stool cultures obtained at least 24 hours apart are negative for E. coli 0157:H7.

Cook all ground beef thoroughly to a minimum temperature of 74°C (165°F) until no pink meat remains and juices run clear. Use an accurate probe thermometer to determine temperature.

Treatment of drinking water will control the spread of infection. Always drink water from a safe supply. If you have a private well, test the water for bacteria at least 4 times per year. The Health Department will supply sample bottles, and assist with interpretation of results.

People with diarrhea caused by E. coli 0157:H7 should not use recreational water venues (swimming pools, lakes, rivers) until 2 weeks after symptoms resolve.

Drink only pasteurized milk, apple juice or cider products. Raw milk should not be ingested.

If you develop bloody diarrhea, see your doctor.

More information can be obtained from

Durham Region Health Department, Environmental Help Line 905-723-3818 or 1-888-777-9613

April 22, 2013

For more information call
905-668-7711 OR 1-800-841-2729