E.coli Gastrointestinal Infection
Signs, Symptoms and Treatment
Some individuals infected with E.coli do not have symptoms and may inadvertently spread the bacteria to others.
E.coli infections typically begin three or four days after exposure.
Typical symptoms of an E.coli infection are:
- Severe stomach cramps;
- Diarrhea (often bloody);
- Vomiting; and fever Diagnosing an E.coli infection can be complicated because there are many other infections that share the same symptoms. Doctors can confirm E.coli by taking a stool sample to identify toxins produced by the bacteria.
Risks Associated with Escherichia coli (E.coli)
Dehydration is a potentially serious risk factor – especially in children, the elderly and those with suppressed immune systems. Symptoms of dehydration include decreased urination, dry mouth, dry throat, pallor and dizziness when standing. Children suffering from dehydration may cry with little to no tears, be lethargic or irritable.
Severe dehydration can be serious and may require re-hydration in a hospital. If you think you or someone under your care is dehydrated, contact your healthcare provider.
About 5 to 10 per cent of those who contract E.coli develop a condition called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). HUS is a rare kidney and blood disorder which can be fatal. Symptoms of HUS can include confusion, abnormal bleeding or bruising and seizures. HUS can also result in need for blood transfusion and kidney dialysis. Kidney damage from HUS can be permanent, so timely diagnosis and treatment is extremely important.
Testing for E.coli
Diagnosing traveler’s diarrhea can be complicated because there are many infections that cause similar symptoms.
To confirm a case traveler’s diarrhea, physicians will order a stool sample that will be tested for toxins produced by the bacteria.
There is currently no treatment to cure an E.coli infection, but the infections generally settle on their own within a week or less. For most people, rest and intake of fluids to help prevent fatigue and dehydration are recommended.
Those who are infected are advised to avoid taking anti-diarrheal medication as diarrhea is the body’s mechanism of clearing the infection and associated toxins.
Antibiotics are not recommended because they can increase the risk of HUS by increasing the amount of toxin released from bacteria.
Prevention is your best medicine, especially when considering going on vacation in an area where access to clean water may be an issue.
Traveler’s diarrhea, which can be caused by E.coli, is the most common illness to affect those who travel abroad. Travelers are at higher risk when going to destinations with poor standards of hygiene and sanitation and/or eating at places with poor food handling practices.
Working collaboratively with your health care professional will help you protect your body from digestive diseases and maximize your digestive health. When you report your health status completely, concisely and accurately, your physician can provide you with the best care and treatment plan. Be sure to stay informed on ways to maintain your health and well-being, track and record your symptoms, and write down questions and concerns to discuss at your next appointment.