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E. Coli: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly – Understanding the Bacteria and How to Protect Yourself

Escherichia coli, commonly known as E. coli is a bacterium that is frequently present in the intestines of both humans and animals. While most strains of E. coli are harmless, some can cause serious illness in humans. The World Health Organization (WHO) has created a fact sheet to help people understand E. coli infections and how to prevent them.

What is E. Coli?

E. coli is a bacterium that is frequently present in the intestines of both humans and animals. Most strains of E. coli are harmless and are a normal part of the healthy human gut microbiome. However, some strains of E. coli can cause serious illness, including foodborne illness.

How is E. Coli Spread?

E. coli is usually spread through the consumption of contaminated food or water, or through contact with the feces of infected humans or animals. Eating undercooked or raw meat, especially ground beef, is a common cause of E. coli infection. Other sources of contamination include unpasteurized milk and fresh produce that has been contaminated during harvesting or processing.

Symptoms of E. Coli Infection

Symptoms of E. coli infection usually appear within two to five days of exposure but can take up to 10 days to appear. Symptoms may include:

  • Abdominal pain and cramping
  • Diarrhea, which may be bloody
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever

In most cases, symptoms of E. coli infection will resolve within five to 10 days. However, in some cases, the infection can lead to more serious complications, such as kidney failure.

Prevention of E. Coli Infection

The best way to prevent E. coli infection is to practice good hygiene and food safety practices. This includes:

  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water before handling food, after using the bathroom, and after changing diapers.
  • Cooking meat thoroughly, especially ground beef, to an internal temperature of at least 160°F (71°C).
  • Washing fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating or cooking.
  • Avoiding unpasteurized milk and dairy products.
  • Avoiding cross-contamination by using separate cutting boards and utensils for raw meat and other foods.

Treatment of E. Coli Infection

Medical treatment is not necessary for most individuals with E. coli infection to recover. Medical attention may be necessary in certain situations. Possible treatments may involve:

  • Rest and hydration to prevent dehydration.
  • Antibiotics, in some cases.
  • Hospitalization for more serious cases, such as kidney failure.


E. coli is a type of bacteria that is commonly found in the human gut, but some strains can cause serious illness. By practicing good hygiene and food safety practices, such as washing hands and cooking meat thoroughly, E. coli infection can be prevented. If you experience symptoms of E. coli infection, seek medical attention promptly.

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