Q&A About E. coli Measured in Katrina Flood Waters
What is E. coli ?
E. coli is a strain of bacteria that lives in the intestines of humans and animals and is normally found in all streams, lakes and canals. The vast majority of strains of E. coli are harmless. There are some strains such as E. coli O157:H7 that are harmful and can produce a toxin that causes severe illness.
What strains of E. coli have been found in the flood waters caused by Hurricane Katrina?
The E. coli bacteria that were measured in flood waters after Hurricane Katrina are not the strain that causes disease. They are the harmless bacteria that exist in the intestines of all people and animals. These are called generic E. coli . These studies did not find E. coli O157, a harmful bacteria, in the waters.
How did the E. coli get into the flood waters?
Generic E. coli is normally found in all streams, lakes and canals. When there is flooding along with a hurricane, the waters may contain fecal material from overflowing sewage systems and agricultural and industrial waste. It is likely that there are also disease- causing organisms in such contaminated water.
What can be done to prevent infection from water contaminated with sewage?
What should I do if I or someone I am caring for has been exposed to sewage contaminated waters?
They may have been exposed to disease causing germs. They should take a bath or shower with clean water and soap, and clean there clothes and other belongings as described above. If wounds were exposed to the sewage contaminated floodwaters, clean and treat them as described above, watch their health status, and if they develop diarrhea, vomiting or fever, give them extra fluids to drink and seek medical evaluation.
Source: Centers for Disease Control
Last Editorial Review: 9/7/2005