Some Facts About E. Coli Bacteria

Introduction

The E. Coli or Escherichia Coli bacteria is a two-personality bacteria which is both beneficial and deadly to our health; have been causing serious havoc in Germany and is posing a serious threat to our lives, since it is a never before seen strain of the most common bacteria in the world. This new strain is totally resistant to any current antibiotic treatment for this type of infection. Unfortunately, there are many people who still do not have a full understanding of how this bacteria plays both a beneficial and a deadly role in our health. After reading this article I hope you have a better understanding of the E. Coli bacterium.

The E. Coli Bacterium

The E. Coli bacterium is a rod-shaped, gram-negative bacteria first discovered in 1885 by Theodor Escherich and later named after him in 1919. There are more than 700 different varieties of this bacteria worldwide. Sometimes some of them have flagella or hair-like projections on its surface to give it mobility.

The bacterium is classified as a "gram-negative" bacteria because it produces a red or pink colored stain when it exposed to a staining technique called the "Gram's Method". The pink or red color is produced by the cell wall of the bacterium. If the bacterium is "gram-positive" the cell wall will produce a purple or blue color. This testing technique is often used to classify bacteria into two distinct groups, however, some bacteria do not fall in either group. This staining technique is also used as a starting point to determine what kind bacteria is causing an infection in patients.

The E. Coli bacterium is capable of surviving in environments with oxygen as an aerobic organism and without oxygen as an anaerobic organism where it acquires it energy by fermentation process. It cannot survive in temperatures greater than 170 degrees Fahrenheit. This why it is so important to cook your meat thoroughly and long to ensure the bacteria is killed.


Structure of E. Coli Bacterium
Structure of E. Coli Bacterium

Where are E. Coli Bacteria Found?

Most people are unaware where E. Coli bacteria are found. Most E. Coli bacteria are found right in our intestinal tract. In fact all warm-blooded animals carry this bacteria in their gut and newborns are born without it until they are expose to it in the first few hours of their life. It aids in the digestion of food and produces a couple vitamins for us. Since E. Coli is a major component in feces it is easily transmitted from feces to mouth if you do not wash your hands after performing the biological function of eliminating solid waste from the body. In a typical day we excrete approximately 100 billion to 10 trillion E. Coli bacteria from our body. Now you see why it is so important to wash your hands because there are probably a few million E. Coli bacteria on them after your bathroom trip.

Fortunately, the bacteria do not survive for long once it is outside of the body. If it did we would be in serious trouble. Infection would be widespread. The reason the bacteria do not survive long outside the body is because the outside temperature is generally lower than the optimal survival temperature of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Sounds familiar? That, coincidently is our normal body temperature. It can survive in temperatures as high as 120 degrees Fahrenheit or higher but will die at temperature at 170 degrees Fahrenheit as mentioned before. This characteristic pretty much explains why most outbreaks occur in the warmer season and warmer regions of the world. E. Coli outbreaks rarely occurs in cold weather but it can happen.

How Do We Get E. Coli Infection?

There are basically a few ways to get E. Coli infection. The most common way is eating undercooked ground beef and contaminated food. Cows like us have E. Coli bacteria in their guts as well. When they are slaughtered all of that meat is grounded up and the E. Coli bacteria present in the intestine will contaminate some of the meat during the grounding process. If this contaminated meat is undercooked, everyone who eats it will become infected and everyone who touched it and did not wash their hands will become infected as well.

Once you eat undercooked ground beef the bacteria end up in your stomach and eventually in the most favorable environment of the intestines where it begin to multiple rapidly. The reason you become sick even though you have the bacteria in you already is because it is a different strain or variety. Your body sees it as a foreign organism in your system and will try to get rid of it like any other bacteria that evades its defenses. Even E. Coli bacteria from another human will make you sick simply because they are different from the ones inside your intestine. Again this is why it is important to wash your hands after your bathroom trip.

Another source of E. Coli infection is by drinking contaminated water or unpasteurized milk. Even though some people claim they drink untreated milk without feeling sick, you should not drink untreated milk directly from a cow or any other animal since it contains E. Coli bacteria. Contrary to what some people believe, pasteurized milk is only milk taken through the heat-cold cycle to kill harmful bacteria. Other than that treated milk is the same as untreated milk. Cows and other farm animals are a main source of E. Coli bacteria since they are constantly tracking manure and contaminated soil all over the place so it is essential that farm workers wash their hands frequently.

Finally, E. Coli infection can be caused by eating unwashed vegetables since they are often fertilized with cow and horse manure or if the vegetable have been sprayed with contaminated water. Washing vegetables will greatly reduce the risk of this infection.

E. Coli bacterium with hair-like projections
E. Coli bacterium with hair-like projections

What Are the Symptoms of E .Coli Infection?

The main symptoms of an E Coli infection are bloody diarrhea, severe stomach cramps and pains, nausea, and vomiting. These are also the symptoms of food poisoning since it is sometimes cause by E coli bacteria contamination. The symptoms usually appear in about three to four days once the bacteria enter your body and will disappear in about 10 days without any treatment.

Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS) and Thrombotic Thrombocytopenic Purpura (TTP) are the more serious symptoms of E. Coli infection. Both of these conditions wreak havoc on the blood. HUS is a very serious condition. The blood cells and walls of the blood vessel are destroyed thus resulting in kidney failure for some patients. Obviously, the patient ends up on dialysis because of this infection. TTP is similar to HUS and is often characterized with low platelet or thrombocyte counts , anemia and kidney failure. Fortunately, these serious symptoms only occur in a small percentage of the infected population, usually less than 10 out of 100 cases of E. Coli infection.

Treatment For E. Coli Infection

There is no specific treatment for E. Coli infection. Antibiotic is useless against E. Coli infection and in some cases the use of it may increases the risk of developing Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS). All current antibiotics have been ineffective against the last outbreak of E. Coli infections in Germany. However, treatments are give to the patient as replacement of fluids and electrolytes to combat dehydration caused by diarrhea. Generally, the treatments are given to the elderly and children to help ease the discomfort and pains associated with the infection.


© 2011 Melvin Porter

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Comments 7 comments

melpor profile image

melpor 5 years ago from New Jersey, USA Author

Credence2, thanks for your comment. Unfortunately, most of these outbreaks are caused by someone not doing the simply act of washing their hands.


melpor profile image

melpor 5 years ago from New Jersey, USA Author

DanyMaio, thanks for stopping by to read my hub. Yep, the bacteria is named after the founder, Theodor Escherich, who was a pediatrician and professor at several universities.


Credence2 profile image

Credence2 5 years ago from Florida (Space Coast)

Timely reminder of a source of infection so many can easily take for granted failing to employ proper precautions to prevent illness or more.

Thank you Cred2


sdcain 5 years ago

Thank you for this information, it was very informative. I will certainly pass this information on. people should be aware of the e-coli bacteria.


DannyMaio profile image

DannyMaio 5 years ago from New York

Great Hub. Voted up and useful. only question you said Theodor Escherich discovered it and it was named after him? Hate to sound stupid but how? is the name actually Escherich-coli? just curious. Thanks


melpor profile image

melpor 5 years ago from New Jersey, USA Author

Sinea, thanks for your comment. Some people will be surprised by the fact that our lives depend on the existence of E. Coli bacteria in our guts.


Sinea Pies profile image

Sinea Pies 5 years ago from Northeastern United States

I had no idea that EColi had a beneficial side. Very interesting hub!

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