What is the bacterium “Escherichia coli”?

Escherichia coli, also called E. coli, is a bacterium that we regularly hear about because of the infections it can cause. Focus on this bacterium whose specificities are still unknown.

Escherichia coli is a bacterium found naturally in the intestinal flora. However, there are different strains of E. coli. While most are harmless and even necessary for the proper functioning of the gut microbiote, others turn out to be harmful. Several types of Escherichia coli, few in number, can indeed cause intestinal infections of varying severity. Some, unfortunately, can lead to death in their most devious forms. Specifically, the so-called enterohaemorrhagic (EHEC) strains are pathogenic for humans. They are the cause offood poisoning regularly featured in the news. They are thus the cause of particularly serious food poisoning (also called TIA).

How do you catch Escherichia coli bacteria?

It is possible to develop an infection with E. coli, for example by bringing soiled hands to your mouth, or even if you bathe in a body of water contaminated by sewage.

However, most infections caused by Escherichia coli come from food. Thus, the most frequent causes are due to:

  • to the dairy products (primarily raw milk) and unpasteurized fruit juices;
  • vegetables and fruits washed with dirty water;
  • to contaminated meat that has not been sufficiently cooked, or even prepared raw.

The sources of contamination can thus be diverse. To prevent most infections, the health authorities recommend in particular systematic hand washing in the kitchen as well as thorough cooking of the meat.

Escherichia coli infection, diagnosis and treatment

The main symptoms of poisoning by E. coli usually appear 3 to 8 days after infection. Among the symptoms observed are:

  • abdominal pain and diarrhoea;
  • vomitings ;
  • high fever.

When poisoning by Escherichia coli is confirmed by a clinical examination supported by bacteriological examination, antibiotic treatment can be implemented. But this can on the contrary lead to an aggravation of the infection by causing the release of toxins in the body. The treatment is therefore essentially preventive. It is thus the entire food chain, starting with the producer, who must implement a hygiene protocol strict to prevent the spread of E. coli strains harmful to human health.

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