E. Coli in New Orleans Flood Waters

Medical Author: Melissa Stoppler, M.D.
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel, Jr, MD, FACP, FACR

What is E. coli?

Escherichia coli, or E. coli for short, is a very common bacterium. There are hundreds of different strains of E. coli. Some are harmless while others cause serious illness.

Non-pathogenic strains of E. coli -- those that do not cause disease -- are normal inhabitants of the intestinal tract in humans and animals. But certain strains of E. coli can cause severe diarrhea and infect the genital and urinary tracts.

What are E. coli symptoms?

The symptoms of E. coli include:

  • Watery or bloody diarrhea,
  • abdominal cramps, with or without fever

How is E. coli spread?

E. coli from the stool of infected persons can be spread by contact with, or drinking sewage-contaminated drinking water. This is now the concern in the flooded areas of New Orleans. It can also be spread to others if hygiene is inadequate. Another source of infection is from contaminated food, for example, from eating contaminated meat from animals infected with pathogenic E. coli.