E. coli enteritis is swelling (inflammation) of the small intestine from Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria. It is the most common cause of travelers' diarrhea.
E. coli is a type of bacteria that normally lives in the intestines of humans and animals without causing any problems. However, certain types (or strains) of E. coli can cause food poisoning. One strain (E. coli O157:H7) can cause a severe case of food poisoning.
Bacteria may get into your food in different ways:
Food poisoning often occurs from eating or drinking:
Although not common, E. coli can be spread from one person to another. This may happen when someone does not wash his or her hands after a bowel movement and then touches other objects or someone else's hands.
Symptoms occur when E. coli bacteria enter the intestine. The time between being infected and developing symptoms is usually 24 - 72 hours.
Diarrhea that is sudden, severe, and often bloody is the most common symptom.
Other symptoms may include:
Symptoms of a rare but severe E. coli infection include:
Your health care provider will perform a physical exam. A stool culture can be done to check for disease-causing E.coli.
You will usually recover from the most common types of E. coli infection within a couple of days. The goal of treatment is to make you feel better and avoid dehydration.
Getting enough fluids and learning what to eat will help keep you or your child comfortable. You may need to:
If you have diarrhea or vomiting and cannot drink or keep enough fluids in your body, you may need fluids given through a vein (IV). You will need to go to your health care provider's office or the emergency room.
If you take diuretics ("water pills"), talk to your health care provider. You may need to stop taking the diuretic while you have diarrhea. Never stop or change medications without first talking to your health care provider.
You can buy medicines at the drugstore that can help stop or slow diarrhea. Do not use these medicines without talking to your health care provider if you have bloody diarrhea or a fever. Do not give these medicines to children.
You usually get better in a few days, without treatment. Some uncommon types of E. coli can cause severe anemia or even kidney failure.
Call for an appointment with your health care provider if:
Traveler's diarrhea - E. coli; Food poisoning - E. coli; E. coli diarrhea; Hamburger disease
Schiller LR, Sellin JH. Diarrhea. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger & Fordtran’s Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:chap 15.
Sodha SV, Griffin PM, Hughes JM. Foodborne disease. In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, esd. Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone. 2009;chap 99.
Craig SA, Zich DK. Gastroenteritis. In: Marx JA, ed. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2009:chap 92.
Updated by: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine; George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
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