E. coli 0157:H7 (Escherichia coli 0157:H7 infection)

  • Medical Author:
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

  • Medical Editor: Jay W. Marks, MD
    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD, is a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist. He graduated from Yale University School of Medicine and trained in internal medicine and gastroenterology at UCLA/Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Quick GuideFood Poisoning: 20 Common and Uncommon Types, Signs and Symptoms

Food Poisoning: 20 Common and Uncommon Types, Signs and Symptoms

How do people contract E. coli 0157:H7 infections?

Most commonly, E. coli 0157:H7 comes from eating raw or undercooked ground beef (for example, hamburger) or from drinking raw milk. The bacteria are found in animal feces, particularly cattle feces, and contact with the feces can lead to contamination of many types of food and fluids. In 2010, the FDA recalled several productions of beef, including beef placed in pet food. Less commonly, E. coli O157:H7 can be transmitted from one person to another, usually by direct physical contact.

E. coli 0157:H7 and prevention of outbreaks

The CDC recommends the following to prevent infections from E. coli 0157:H7.

  1. Wash hands thoroughly after using the bathroom or changing diapers, and before preparing or eating food. Wash hands after contact with animals or their environments (at farms, petting zoos, fairs, even your own pets in your own yard or house).
  2. Cook meats thoroughly. Ground beef and meat that has been needle-tenderized should be cooked to a temperature of at least 160 F (70 C). It's best to use a thermometer, as color is not a very reliable indicator of "doneness."
  3. Avoid raw milk, unpasteurized dairy products, and unpasteurized juices (like fresh apple cider).
  4. Avoid swallowing water when swimming or playing in lakes, ponds, streams, swimming pools, and backyard "kiddie" pools.
  5. Prevent cross contamination in food preparation areas by thoroughly washing hands, counters, cutting boards, and utensils after they touch raw meat.

In addition, many researchers suggest that hamburgers ordered in a restaurant should be cooked through completely, so that no pink hamburger meat is visible inside. This cooking reduces the chance that E. coli serotypes will remain alive in the meat. All foods involved in a recall should be put in the trash. No one should attempt to cook the recalled material and eat it.

Because E. coli 0157:H7 is routinely found in the intestines of cattle, companies have developed a vaccine to reduce the number of these bacteria in cattle. The first vaccine for cattle was FDA approved in 2009. There is no vaccine available for E. coli 0157:H7 in humans.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/3/2015

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