Most E. coli are harmless, even good for the human intestines. We know what you may be thinking, how can E. coli be harmless? E. coli plays an important part of a healthy human intestinal tract however, some strains can lead to serious illness. In fact, they are one of the most common types of bacteria found to cause foodborne illness and are responsible for 100,000 illnesses; 3,000 of which lead to hospitalizations and sadly, 90 of which lead to death - per year- in the U.S. alone.
E. coli are made up of a diverse group (called pathotypes) of bacteria, six of which are associated with diarrhea. One pathotype causes disease by making a toxin called Shiga Toxin, called “Shiga Toxin-producing” E. coli (STEC). The most common strain of STEC identified in North America is E. coli 0157:H7, but many other kinds (called serogroups) exist that may go undiagnosed or unreported. STEC can infect anyone but children under five years old and adults over 65 years old are more likely to develop serious illness and hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). HUS develops in around 5 - 10% of cases of STEC and can lead to death.
It’s gross to think about but the infection starts once a person has swallowed STEC. Certain foods carry a high risk, including raw milk, unpasteurized apple cider and soft cheese made from raw milk, however, contamination can occur - ahem - when tiny particles of human or animal feces are transferred through water, food or contact through animals or other people.
Our goal here is not to scare you but to provide you with some insight on how to recognize when the “Triggerman” may be lurking around your neighborhood.
Check out this infographic to learn more about the Bad Bugs Gang and how you can stop them from spreading.