An outbreak is when there are more cases of a disease then expected in a given area, or among a specific group of people, over a certain period of time. A case of disease is considered part of an outbreak if it is identified as being related to other cases or has a common cause or exposure.
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Escherichia coli (E. coli) 0157:H7 is a bacterium that can infect people and cause symptoms of bloody diarrhea with abdominal cramps. Persons may experience little or no fever. Although healthy adults typically recover completely from E. coli 0157:H7 a week after exposure, it is important to see a physician immediately if you have symptoms as some people, especially children and the elderly, may develop serious complications leading to kidney damage or even death.
Symptoms of E. coli 0157:H7 infection commonly develop within 3 to 4 days of eating contaminated food but may occur less frequently within the wider range of 1 to 10 days. Symptoms may include severe bloody diarrhea and abdominal cramps with little or no fever. Persons infected usually begin to recover from illness in 5 to 10 days. Persons with symptoms of an E coli infection should immediately see a physician as serious complications leading to hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) or kidney failure can occur.
E. coli infections can be spread in a variety of ways. People can become infected with E. coli 0157:H7 by eating under-cooked, contaminated ground beef or from eating contaminated bean sprouts or fresh, leafy vegetables such as lettuce and spinach. Infection may occur after drinking raw milk or after swimming in or drinking sewage-contaminated water. Person-to-person contact is a known mode of transmission as bacteria in loose stool of infected persons can be passed to others if hand washing or hygiene habits are not adequate.
E. coli 0157:H7 infections are diagnosed by detecting bacteria in the stool. All persons with sudden diarrhea with blood should have their stool test for the bacterium.
E. coli strains are “fingerprinted” at public health laboratories to determine the sub-type of bacteria. Cases of illness with the same “fingerprint” (DNA pattern) may be associated with the outbreak strain. These results help to identify other related cases of illness as well to help determine the extent of the outbreak.
Most people completely recover within 5 to 10 days without antibiotics or other specific treatments. Infected persons that experience life-threatening kidney complications are treated with intensive care and may require blood transfusions and kidney dialysis. Antidiarrheal products like Imodium® (loperamide) should not be used. Antibiotics are not used to treat this type of infection. No existing evidence shows antibiotics improve the disease. The use of antibiotics in persons with E. coli infections may lead to serious kidney complications.
To help prevent E coli infections, Madison County Health Department recommends:
For more information about reducing your risk of foodborne illness, visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service website.