What is Escherichia coli (E. coli)?
Escherichia coli (E. coli) is a bacterium that lives in the digestive tracts of healthy people and animals. Most types of E. coli are pretty harmless, but this bacterium should not be taken lightly, as it can cause severe damage to your body.
Where does it come from?
E. coli is usually found in the intestines of agricultural animals. So how does a person become infected with E. coli?
- Contact with infected animal and human waste.
- Feces can be carried through contaminated water and food. Raw fruits and veggies that have come into contact with waste can be infected if not treated properly before being sold in the market place.
- E. coli can get into your meat during processing if the meat is not cooked at exactly 160°F (71°C), as the bacteria can survive and move onto your body when consumed.
- It can get in your water when it is not treated properly through water treatment facilities. Accidental swallowing of the contaminated water in swimming pools, lakes, and rivers may also infect the human body. Open reservoirs are also a big risk many cities face.
- Bacteria can travel from a cow to its milk.
Many people may not notice any symptoms and often do not see a doctor. They are able to fight off the E. coli without any problems and never even know that it was in their system at all in the first place. Other people including those with weak immune systems, older adults, and children are more likely to experience some kind of symptoms 3 to 4 days after infection. These people are more at risk of developing life-threatening infections. Symptoms of infection may include diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea, and vomiting.
The use of antibiotics is ill-advised, as the bacteria creates a toxin within its shell and when it is broken through the use of antibiotics, it releases that toxin into the bloodstream, spreading the infection at an alarming rate.
When the E. coli makes a serious impact on blood or kidneys, the symptoms will vary between pale skin, weakness, fevers, bruising across the body, and not being able to pass urine regardless of fluid intake.
The CDC estimates that 83% of E. coli infections are food and water borne in origin. Outbreaks have been reported for E. coli infection through both animal-to-person and person-to-person transmission. Take a look below to see what you can do to guard yourself against the dangers of E. coli:
- Practice good hygiene.
- Don’t touch outside animals such as farm animals. They have “Do not touch” signs for good reason at many zoos and animal housing facilities.
- Keep children away from other children that have the stomach flu or diarrhea for good measure. Remember to use gloves when changing diapers of children who have diarrhea.
- Avoid getting into or ingesting non-chlorinated water (and remember to avoid drinking chlorine water – invest in a good post-treatment water filter!).
- Clean food and preparation tips:
- Clean and sanitize all food that comes into your home. Clean your fruits and vegetables, avoid cross contamination when handling meats.
- Cook your meat at the correct temperature and beware of bloody meats. Make sure to use a different set of utensils for cooking and eating. Don’t store raw food with cooked and prepared food.
- Refrigerate your meat as soon as possible.
- Clean countertops and cooking tools as soon as you have finished using them.
- Only drink pasteurized milk.
E. Coli in well and tap water
Although our government and food facilities do all they can to provide us with the cleanest water possible, E. coli will always find its way into our lives. Well water users can be infected when the bacteria from agricultural use accumulates and seeps into runoff that can travel to and infect water. Municipal tap water users have it a little more complicated, as there are several ways the bacteria can infect tap water.
- For example, someone who is infected with E. coli at the water treatment facility can inadvertently infect the water as it is processed to the home.
- An open water reservoir can be infected due to runoff or contaminated rain.
- Too-little use of cleaning agents in a water treatment facility can result to a small amount of surviving bacteria that can travel through the tap water system.
For a home filtration option to keep away E. coli and other viruses and bacteria from your drinking water, you can install a whole home water filter with a UV light. The Aquasana Rhino Whole House Well Water Filter comes with an optional UV Sterilight filtration system that kills 99.99% of viruses, bacteria like E. coli, and chlorine resistant cysts like cryptosporidium and giardia.