E. coli Infection Facts (cont.)

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Shiga toxin-producing E. coli infection transmission

  • The main source of E. coli 0157:H7 is healthy cattle, but other domestic and wild mammals also can be sources. During the slaughter of cattle harboring this strain, meat can become contaminated, and the bacteria are mixed into the beef when it is ground. Most cases of E. coli 0157:H7 illnesses have occurred after eating undercooked ground beef.
  • However, other products such as vegetables can become contaminated with the bacteria, for example, if cow manure is used as a fertilizer for produce that is often consumed raw, such as spinach.
  • Sewage contamination of water used for irrigation can also result in contaminated produce. Disease-causing strains of E. coli have been previously identified on lettuce, on alfalfa sprouts, and in unpasteurized fruit juices. It is important to note that rinsing contaminated produce is not sufficient to eliminate the bacterial contamination, but cooking the produce will destroy the E. coli bacterium.
  • These bacteria may also be present on the cow's udders and contaminate the milk and milk products. That is one of the dangers of drinking unpasteurized milk and other raw dairy products.
  • E. coli from the stool of infected people can be spread to others if hygiene is inadequate, which is particularly likely among young children. Swimming and wading pools and hot tubs can harbor live E. coli if the water is under-chlorinated.
  • E. coli can be spread from sewage-contaminated drinking water. (This is a concern after hurricanes and other natural disasters.)
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/13/2016

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