Enterovirulent E. coli (EEC)

  • 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.

How are enterovirulent E. coli (EEC) infections prevented?

Almost every person who gets infected with EEC has touched and eventually ingested either foods or fluids contaminated with EEC bacteria. Numerous outbreaks occur worldwide each year due to a food or fluid source contamination with these organisms; some of the most serious problems are often related to contaminated meat products by the EHEC group. However, the potential sources of EEC group infections are vast. Fortunately, there are guidelines that can help reduce the chance of getting EEC infections.

The following guidelines on preventing EHEC, especially E. coli 0157:H7, are recommended by the CDC, but they are applicable to all EEC groups:

  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).
  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 meat 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. (This recommendation is especially important for anyone who prepares and serves food to others.)

One of the major sources of numerous outbreaks is hamburger meat contaminated with E. coli 0157:H7; such infections have been termed "hamburger disease". Many authors recommend that hamburgers ordered in a restaurant should be "medium or well done," with no pink hamburger meat visible in the middle of the burger. Any "pink" hamburger meat should be cooked until brown to reduce the chance that viable E. coli are still present.

In addition, any food or liquid involved in a recall due to possible E. coli contamination should be disposed of immediately. On August 8, 2010 about I million pounds of beef in California was recalled due to possible E. coli 0157:H7 contamination. In 2010, the FDA has recalled several productions of beef, including material put into dry pet foods due to this organism. Other FDA recalls due to EEC in 2010 included spinach and romaine lettuce.

Some researchers suggest that babies who are breastfed, especially in third world countries, may reduce the infant's exposure to EEC bacteria.

There is controversy about the use of antibiotics to prevent EEC, some physicians suggest the use of rifaximin (Xifaxan); other physicians do not. Data to support such use of the antibiotic is not available. There are no commercially available anti-EEC vaccines available in the US, although vaccine research is ongoing.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/16/2016

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