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E. coli bacteria are again causing illnesses and fear across Europe. In the latest outbreak, allegedly stemming from infected Spanish vegetables, over 1,500 people are sick and 17 people have died, reports the Guardian. Recently, the World Health Organization confirmed that this outbreak is from a new strain of E. coli bacteria. It is the third largest outbreak in history. Here is the truth about this bacterium:
* Escherichia coli, commonly referred to as E. coli, is a bacterium that in certain forms produces the very potent toxin Shiga, which can make people sick or even cause death. There are many varieties of the bacteria, more that 700 known strains, and only certain ones are harmful to humans.
* E. coli was first discovered in 1885 but it wasn't until 1935 that certain strains were found to cause severe illness.
* The symptoms of E. coli infection are diarrhea which may or may not be bloody, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. The symptoms are similar to food poisoning but may take up to one week to appear.
* E. coli is most often found in beef, especially ground beef; fruits; vegetables; and water. This may lead to beach closures and prohibitions against swimming in lakes.
* Generally, contaminated water can be traced to improper sewage treatment or water contaminated with fecal matter.
* According to the Centers for Disease Control, in the United States there are around 2,000 hospitalizations and 60 deaths that can be attributed to E. coli each year.
* In the past five years, there have been E. coli outbreaks in the United States from ground beef, spinach, pizza, cookie dough, lettuce, cheese, hazel nuts and bologna.
* It takes around two or three weeks from the time of contamination to the time of confirmed diagnosis, which means that often times other people will become sick in the meantime.
* Generally in an outbreak, there will be a cluster of illnesses all appearing at the same time. Then, as the source is identified and removed, the number of illnesses will drop. The key to stopping the spread is identifying the source of the infection and removing it from the public.
* One of the best defenses against E. coli is to fully cook your food. Heat kills bacteria, and because only the live bacteria produce the toxin Shiga, only the live bacteria can harm people.
* Pets can become infected with E. coli. This will lead to incontinence, pain and often times strange behavior. If you ever notice your pet having bloody stool or urine, be sure to take the pet to the veterinarian as this may be a sign of E. coli or another serious illness.
* Petting zoos, farms and agricultural animal exhibitions have been linked to causing E. coli illnesses in children, reports the Daily Mail. This is best prevented by making sure that children wash their hands after coming into contact with animals. Always make sure that children are wearing shoes and other full coverage clothing to avoid getting bacteria on their skin.
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