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Escherichia coli O157:H7(E-Coli) is an emerging cause of food borne illness. An estimated 73,000 cases of infection and 61 deaths occur in the United States each year. Infection often leads to bloody diarrhea, and occasionally to kidney failure. Most illness has been associated with eating undercooked, contaminated ground beef. Person-to-person contact in families and child care centers is also an important mode of transmission. Infection can also occur after drinking raw milk and after swimming in or drinking sewage-contaminated water. People can prevent E-Coli infection by thoroughly cooking ground beef, avoiding unpasteurized milk, and washing hands carefully.

Due to the fact that the organisms live in the intestines of healthy cattle, preventive measures on cattle farms and during meat processing are being investigated.

E-Coli O157:H7 is one of hundreds of strains of the bacterium Escherichia coli. Although most strains are harmless and live in the intestines of healthy humans and animals, this strain produces a powerful toxin and can cause severe illness. E-Coli O157:H7 was first recognized as a cause of illness in 1982 during an outbreak of severe bloody diarrhea; the outbreak was traced to contaminated hamburgers. Since then, most infections have come from eating undercooked ground beef.

Hemorrhagic colitis, the first E-Coli symptom, is characterized by the sudden onset of abdominal pain and severe cramps, followed within 24 hours by diarrhea. As the disease progresses, the diarrhea becomes watery and then may become bloody. E-Coli symptoms sometimes include vomiting and fever. The incubation period for E-Coli infection (i.e., the period from ingestion of the bacteria to the start of symptoms) is typically 3 to 9 days, although shorter and longer periods are not that unusual. An incubation period of less than 24 hours would be unusual. In most infected individuals, the E-Coli symptoms last about a week and resolve without any long term problems. Antibiotics do not improve the illness, and some medical researchers believe that these medications can increase the risk of complications. Apart from good supportive



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