E. Coli 0157:H7

What is E. Coli 0157:H7?

There are hundreds of strains of bacteria called Escherichia coli, most of which are harmless.  E. Coli 0157:H7 is a particular strain which has been the source of foodborne outbreaks and can cause severe illness and even death.

Where does 0157 come from?

The bacteria is present in the intestines of cattle, which may come into contact with meat during slaughter. Most cases of E. coli infection result from undercooked ground beef.  The bacteria is killed when meat is thoroughly cooked.  When hamburger meat is ground, surface bacteria may be spread throughout the meat so it is important to cook it to an internal temperature of 160 degrees and until it is no longer pink.  Other sources of E. coli infection are unpasteurized milk and juices, unwashed fruits and vegetables, and contaminated water.

Can you tell if ground beef that you buy contains E. coli?

Meat contaminated with 0157 usually looks and smells normal, so ground beef should always be thoroughly cooked to destroy any bacteria that might be present.

What are the symptoms of E. coli infection?

Symptoms can range from none to severe, often bloody diarrhea and painful abdominal cramps.  Young children and the elderly are at greatest risk of developing serious complications from infection.  These complications can include brain damage, kidney failure, strokes, and seizures.

Can the infection be spread from person to person?

Yes, bacteria in fecal matter of infected persons can be passed from one person to another if they don't wash their hands thoroughly after using the bathroom.  If someone should develop E. coli infection, careful hand washing with soap will reduce the risk of spreading it.  Toddlers who are not toilet-trained are especially likely to spread the infection.

What can you do to prevent E. coli infection?

Avoid eating raw or undercooked ground beef and unpasteurized milk or juices.  Always wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating.  Be sure to wash hands, kitchen utensils, and work surfaces thoroughly after contact with raw meat to avoid contaminating other food.  Drink only water that has been treated with chlorine or other effective disinfectants, and avoid swallowing lake or pool water while swimming.

Healthcare providers, laboratories, and public health professionals can find more information about this disease and a variety of others at the Tennessee Department of Health Reportable Diseases and Events home page http://apps.health.tn.gov/ReportableDiseases/ReportableDisease.aspx

See CDC's website for additional information on E. coli.