E. coli enteritis is 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.
E. coli germs can get into the food you eat (called contamination) in different ways:
Food poisoning can then occur 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 their 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:
The health care provider will perform a physical exam. A stool culture can be done to check for disease-causing E. coli.
Cases usually clear up on their own within 1 - 3 days, and no treatment is required.
Antidiarrheal medication may not be recommended, because it can slow the bacteria from leaving the digestive tract.
You may need electrolyte solutions if you are dehydrated. Persons with diarrhea (especially young children) who are unable to drink fluids because of nausea may need medical care and intravenous fluids.
If you take diuretics and develop diarrhea, you may need to stop taking the diuretic during the episode. Do not stop taking any medicine without the advice of your health care provider.
Avoid dairy products. They may make the diarrhea worse due to temporary lactose intolerance.
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.
See also: Diarrhea in children
The illness usually runs its course in a few days, without treatment. A small number of patients may need to be admitted to the hospital if they become very dehydrated or they develop hemolytic uremic syndrome.
Certain types of E. coli can cause severe anemia or even kidney failure.
Call for an appointment with your health care provider if:
Careful hand washing may be helpful. Do not drink untreated or possibly contaminated food or water. Always cook meats well, especially ground meats. Cook meats at high enough temperatures to kill bacteria.
See also: Preventing food poisoning
Traveler's diarrhea - E. coli; Food poisoning - E. coli; E. coli diarrhea; Hamburger disease