Most are harmless and live naturally in the intestines of humans and other mammals without causing illness. But, there are a few strains that cause serious illness in humans when we eat or drink contaminated food or water.
Typical symptoms of E. coli infection are stomach pain and diarrhea. E. coli can also cause urinary tract infections (UTIs).
UTIs are common in children and women. By the age of five, 8% of girls and 1-2% of boys have had at least one UTI.
Women and girls tend to get UTIs more often than men and boys for two reasons:
- Women and girls have shorter urethras (where urine comes out)
- The urethra is located closer to the anus (where you have your bowel movements), which increases the chances of bacteria from the colon coming into contact with the urethra.
Usually, there are no bacteria in urine. When bacteria get into the urinary tract (the system that brings urine from your kidneys to your bladder and then out through the urethra) it can cause symptoms of fever, as well as burning and pain with urination. This is a UTI.
Most often, UTIs are caused by E. coli that get into the urinary tract from stool left on the skin around the anus after a bowel movement. Bleh.
However, some UTIs result from eating E. coli-contaminated food.
To avoid infection and the spread of E. coli, CDC suggests:
- Thoroughly cook meats and wash fresh produce before eating.
- Thoroughly wash your hands after using the restroom, changing diapers, before and after touching food, after touching animals or the areas in which animals reside.
- After using the restroom, wipe from front to back to prevent bacteria from the anus from entering the urethra.
- Avoid raw milk and unpasteurized dairy products or juices such as apple cider.
- Drink plenty of fluids (except for the water in which you swim or play, as it might harbor E. coli).
No guarantees, but a little prevention might save you or your kids from lots of discomfort.