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Escherichia coli 0157:H7

What is E. coli 0157:H7?

Escherichia coli (or simply E. coli) is one of the many groups of bacteria that live in the intestines of healthy humans and most warm-blooded animals. E. coli bacteria help maintain the balance of normal intestinal flora (bacteria) against harmful bacteria and synthesize or produce some vitamins.

However, there are hundreds of types or strains of E. coli bacteria. Different strains of E. coli have different distinguishing characteristics.

A particular strain of E. coli known as E. coli O157:H7 causes a severe intestinal infection in humans. It is the most common strain to cause illness in people. It can be differentiated from other E. coli by the production of a potent toxin that damages the lining of the intestinal wall causing bloody diarrhea. It is also known as enterohemorrhagic E. coli infection.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports about 73,000 cases of this type of E. coli infection occur in the United States each year.

Treatment for an E. coli infection:

Antibiotics are not used with this type of infection, and taking them may increase the risk of HUS. In addition, antidiarrheal medications, such as loperamide (Imodium) are not used. Recovery for most people with this illness usually occurs within five to 10 days.

If a person develops the life-threatening complication, hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), hospitalization may be required in an intensive care unit. Treatment may include blood transfusions and kidney dialysis. According to the CDC, three to five percent of persons who develop HUS may die from this complication.