Only a few strains of E. coli trigger diarrhea. The E. coli O157:H7 strain belongs to a group of E. coli that produces a powerful toxin that damages the lining of the small intestine. This can cause bloody diarrhea. You develop an E. coli infection when you ingest this strain of bacteria.
Unlike many other disease-causing bacteria, E. coli can cause an infection even if you ingest only small amounts. Because of this, you can be sickened by E. coli from eating a slightly undercooked hamburger or from swallowing a mouthful of contaminated pool water.
Potential sources of exposure include contaminated food or water and person-to-person contact.
The most common way to get an E. coli infection is by eating contaminated food, such as:
- Ground beef. When cattle are slaughtered and processed, E. coli bacteria in their intestines can get on the meat. Ground beef combines meat from many different animals, increasing the risk of contamination.
- Unpasteurized milk. E. coli bacteria on a cow's udder or on milking equipment can get into raw milk.
- Fresh produce. Runoff from cattle farms can contaminate fields where fresh produce is grown. Certain vegetables, such as spinach and lettuce, are particularly vulnerable to this type of contamination.
Human and animal stool may pollute ground and surface water, including streams, rivers, lakes and water used to irrigate crops. Although public water systems use chlorine, ultraviolet light or ozone to kill E. coli, some E. coli outbreaks have been linked to contaminated municipal water supplies.
Private water wells are a greater cause for concern because many don't have a way to disinfect water. Rural water supplies are the most likely to be contaminated. Some people also have been infected with E. coli after swimming in pools or lakes contaminated with stool.
Contaminated foods and water
Raw fruits and vegetables
The stomach acid acts as a greater defense mechanism. When this bacteria comes into contact with the acid, it might result in degradation of the bacteria. The patients taking the H2 receptor blockers and other antacids might easily get the infection.
Raw or undecooked shellfish