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Escherichia coli (E. coli) is a bacterium that is a part of the natural intestinal micro-flora of humans and animals. It is capable of surviving both with and without oxygen. Under normal conditions, these bacteria remain non-pathogenic, i.e. they do not cause infections. However, if they spread outside of the intestinal territory, they may cause various complications. E. coli in the urinary tract may cause bladder or kidney infections, and their presence in the bloodstream can trigger sepsis.
The Notorious Serotype E. coli 0157:H7
More than 700 strains or serotypes of E. coli exist.
Among them, the serotype E. coli 0157:H7 is the most commonly occurring. It causes bloody diarrhea by secreting a toxin known as Shiga (Vero) toxin into the human intestine. Other serotypes can also acquire this pathogenic ability if they become capable of producing the toxin.
E. coli 0157:H7 is also the most widely studied due the additional complications it causes in children and adults. These problems may even be of a permanent nature and result in death. They include:
- Renal failure
- Anemia (especially hemolytic uremic syndrome in children)
- Organ failure
- Spontaneous bleeding
- Mental anomalies (especially in the elderly, termed thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura)
Sources of E. coli 0157:H7 Infection
Infections of this type are usually contracted through consuming contaminated food or water. The infection is contagious and spreads through contaminated fecal matter. Thus, personal hygiene is a must. Foods should be cooked and handled under sanitary condition. The feces of pets must also be handled with care.
Symptoms of E. coli 0157:H7 Infection
Symptoms commonly associated with such an infection are:
- Low fever
- Abdominal cramping
- Bloody diarrhea
Diagnosis of E. coli 0157:H7 Infection
This involves testing the patient’s stool for presence of the bacteria, since it is secreted in the feces. The strain is confirmed once certain immunological tests particular for that serotype are performed on the stool.
This is the reason doctors prefer to get your stool test before prescribing any type of antibiotics. Also keep in mind that it is a bad idea to diagnose yourself at home without tests and start the treatment. Wrong medicines may elongate the course of disease.
Conventional Treatment of E. coli 0157:H7 Infection
There are no vaccines available for preventing E. coli infections. Generally, people tend to recovery normally after a couple of days. The aim of treatment is simply to make the person comfortable and replenish him with the nutrients he loses because of the vomiting and diarrhea. Common treatment regimes include:
- Managing the diarrhea
- Controlling nausea and vomiting
- Preventing dehydration – Oral rehydration mixtures may be taken to replace the fluids, salts and minerals lost. In severe cases, these may have to be administered via an IV (intra-venous) line.
Prognosis of E. coli 0157:H7 Infection Treatment
If no complications arise, recovery is usually smooth and quick. However, if the patient develops severe dehydration, anemia or any mental anomaly, rapid measures must be taken.