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escherichia coli (e. coli) O157:H7

E. coli O157:H7 and other strains of enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC) belong to a large and diverse group of bacteria. Many strains are harmless and do not cause disease, but E. coli O157:H7 and other strains that produce the Shiga toxin (STEC) have been implicated in many outbreaks, including those from restaurants.

Symptoms of infections with E. coli usually include severe abdominal cramps, diarrhea (often bloody) and vomiting. Young children and the elderly can have more serious symptoms that often require hospitalization; the most serious complication of E. coli O157:H7 infection is hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS).

With HUS, the red blood cells are destroyed, resulting in kidney failure. Treatment with antibiotics is not recommended, as their use may increase the risk of HUS.

This disease has a low infectious dose, with an incubation period that is usually 3-4 days, but can range from 1–10 days. The most common source of E. coli O157:H7 infection is undercooked ground beef that has been contaminated with cattle feces; outbreaks have also occurred from lettuce, spinach and other produce, unpasteurized juice, raw milk, other dairy products and contaminated water.

Although there are relatively few cases (<50) reported in Georgia each year, it is estimated that there are approximately 73,000 cases of E. coli O157:H7 infection in the US each year, with about 60 deaths.

The following websites have additional information: