Communicable Diseases - E.coli

Communicable Disease Prevention and Control

E.coli - Food and Water Borne Diseases

E. coli 0157:H7 is one of many strains of the bacteria Escherichia coli.  Most strains are harmless and live in the intestines of healthy humans and animals.  However, this strain can cause severe illness.

In some people, the infection can also cause the red blood cells to be destroyed and the kidneys to fail. About 2%-7% of infections result in this.

Transmission may be through water, but commonly the infection is transmitted through contaminated food. Inadequately cooked beef (particularly ground beef), raw milk, and fruits or vegetables that have been contaminated with feces from certain animals, are commonly responsible.

The bacteria may also be passed person to person through direct contact in families, childcare centres, and institutions.

Other ways people can get E. coli 0157:H7 are by drinking unpasteurized milk or juice, swimming in or drinking water contaminated by sewage.

The incidence of E. coliinfection in Nova Scotia peaked at 7.9 cases per 100,000 of the population in 1998 followed by a drop to 1.3 cases in 2004.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms include:

  • Severe bloody diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Vomiting

Usually there is little or no fever, and in some cases there is no blood in the diarrhea. In some cases, there are no symptoms at all.

What is the treatment?

Most people recover without antibiotics or other treatment in 5-10 days. There is no evidence that antibiotics help treat the disease.

How can E.coli be prevented?

  • Cook all ground beef until a thermometer inserted into center of the meat says 71 o C (160F).
  • Keep raw meat separate from other foods in the kitchen. Wash hands, cutting boards and counter tops with hot, soapy water if they touch raw meat.
  • Always wash hands before preparing food, after using the toilet, and after changing a diaper.
  • Drink water that has been treated with chlorine or other effective disinfectants.
  • Avoid swallowing lake or pool water while swimming.
  • Never drink unpasteurized milk, apple juice or cider, and do not eat unpasteurized cheese.

 Anyone with diarrhea should avoid swimming in public pools or lakes, sharing baths with others, preparing food for others, or providing personal care for others.