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Author Topic: Some info about E. coli  (Read 2044 times)

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Offline emeraldize

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Some info about E. coli
« on: June 06, 2011, 07:49:14 PM »
Although the outbreak of a rare but deadly strain of Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria in Europe is grabbing headlines, U.S. health officials say the contamination isn't likely to affect people here.

The reason: The United States imports less than 0.2 percent of its produce from Europe, and produce is the suspected culprit in the outbreak, which has killed 22 people so far and sickened more than 2,200, many of them in Germany.

But E. coli contamination is an ongoing concern to health officials and regulators who monitor the U.S. food supply.

E. coli is an umbrella term for a large number of common bacteria. Depending on the type of E. coli, symptoms can include diarrhea, urinary tract infections, and respiratory illness, says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Fortunately, most strains of the bacteria are relatively harmless and any illness usually clears up in five to seven days. In fact, many people may have been infected — and chalked symptoms up to a stomach bug or food poisoning — without even realizing E. coli germs were the culprit.

When E. coli Makes Us Sick

But other strains can cause more severe illness, according to the CDC.

A particularly virulent type of E. coli makes a toxin called Shiga toxin — the type seen in the current outbreak centered in Germany. Cousins of this strain of E. coli are found in the United States — most notably E. coli O157, which was first identified in 1982.

In its most virulent form, E. coli O157 can cause severe stomach cramps, bloody diarrhea, vomiting, and fever. Most people get better within a week, according to the CDC.

But, some 5 percent to 10 percent of people diagnosed with E. coli O157 can develop a potentially life-threatening condition called hemolytic uremic syndrome, which can lead to kidney failure and possibly death.

"This is a category of E. coli that gets you sick with a very small amount, that's hard to eradicate, that you can't easily wash off of vegetables or hands, because it's the toxin that's the problem," said infectious disease expert Marc Siegel, MD, an associate professor of medicine at New York University in New York City.

Where E. coli Comes From

E. coli bacteria live in the intestines of livestock such as cattle, sheep, and goats. The bacteria can pass directly into meat and milk from these animals, which is why E. coli contamination is often seen in ground meat and unpasteurized milk. Contamination can also occur in the processing and handling of meat.

But E. coli can also contaminate fruits and vegetables. This frequently happens when water contaminated with waste from farm animals is used to irrigate crops.

Dr. Siegel believes that virulent strains of E. coli bacteria will continue to be seen in the United States. "As long as we keep feeding grain to cattle, which makes their intestines more acidic, the more we can expect this kind of bacteria to thrive. The more that happens, the more it gets into their manure, gets into rainwater, gets into irrigation ditches, and gets into our crops and our food," he said.

Compounding the problem, Siegel said, are the large quantities of antibiotics given to livestock that are responsible for creating antibiotic-resistant strains of E. coli.

How to Protect Your Family From E. coli Infection

Although the food industry and government bear much of the burden for keeping the nation's food supply safe, you can take these simple food-safety steps at home to protect your family:

Cook food thoroughly. Make sure ground beef, other meats, and eggs are well-cooked before you eat them. Use a food thermometer to ensure that hamburger and other ground meats have been cooked to at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Wash raw vegetables and fruits with soapy water. This is particularly true for leafy greens because they have crevasses and cracks where E. coli can hide. Use separate cutting boards. Don't chop vegetables on the same chopping block you just used to prepare hamburgers or other meat. Quarantine raw food in your kitchen prep. Always keep raw foods and ready-to-eat foods separate, so bacteria lurking in uncooked meat or eggs won’t spread to the rest. Refrigerate leftovers promptly. Letting your meal linger on the counter for hours can allow bacteria to multiply. Be a smarter produce shopper. Steer clear produce such as tomatoes that is bruised — it could be a sign of contamination. Clean up with care. Make sure cooking utensils, especially those that have touched raw meat, (including meat thermometers and cutting boards), are thoroughly cleaned with soap and hot water after you've handled them. Scrub your hands. Wash your hands regularly with soap and hot water, especially before and after you finish cooking. Give them a good rinse when you finish handling raw meat or eggs before moving on preparing the rest of the meal. Don’t drink raw beverages. Stick to only pasteurized milk and cheese, juice, or cider.


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