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E. coli (Escherichia coli) is a bacterium that is generally found in the lower intestine of warm-blooded organisms. Most E. coli strains are harmless, but a few can cause serious cases of food poisoning. These strains are generally passed into the system through fecal-oral transmission, as E. coli bacteria can survive outside of the body for a substantial period of time. Austrian pediatrician Theodor Escherich discovered the E. coli bacteria in feces in 1885, calling it bacterium coli commune, as it is commonly found in the colon. It was eventually renamed after its discoverer, to Escherichia coli.
Harmful E. coli Strains
Those strains of E. coli are harmful and can cause:
- Urinary tract infections
- Neonatal meningitis
Uropathogenic E. coli (UPEC) results in urinary tract infections, and may result from improper wiping (back to front) following urination in women. Anal intercourse can also result in the spread of UPEC to men.
Harmful strains of E. coli produce a toxin that damages the lining of the small intestine, and can result from undercooked ground beef, unpasteurized milk and fresh produce. Signs and symptoms of E. coli infection generally appear three or four days following exposure, and may include:
- Diarrhea (ranging from mild and watery to severe and bloody)
- Abdominal cramping
- Nausea and vomiting.
Individuals should seek immediate medical attention if the diarrhea is persistent, severe, or bloody.