Touro Now: The Up Close Risk of E.coli

Touro Now

May 3, 2018

Just how at risk are we from E.coli? To date, more than 98 people have been made ill across 22 states by an E.coli outbreak traced to romaine lettuce grown in the Yuma region of Arizona. It is one of the most common bacteria in our microbiome, according to Assefaw Tekeste Ghebrekidan, MD, DrPH, and professor of the Public Health Program.

“It is found in the large intestine and has for the most part developed a symbiotic relationship with our body,” says Dr. Ghebrekidan. “It helps us to produce Vitamin K and denies pathogenic organisms from growing in that area.”

E.coli was first discovered 120 years ago and is one of the most studied bacteria that we have in our gut, according to Dr. Ghebrekidan. Antibiotic resistance rate is rising with regard to the last generation of antibiotics (cephalosporin). While most of our own anaerobic intestinal bacteria die outside the body when exposed to oxygen, E.coli is anaerobic and capable of surviving in soil, water, or uncooked food. This facilitates the spread of the E.coli and contamination of our food where the bacteria can become pathogenic or disease-causing.

“That is why we have to wash our hands in the bathroom because we shed E.coli each time we go,” says Dr. Ghebrekidan.

If it becomes pathogenic, E.coli infections usually only cause mild symptoms like having loose bowels, and E.coli is among the most common of hospital infections. But occasionally, E.coli can become more severe and necrotize cells, leading to bloody diarrhea, urinary tract infection, and kidney failure, which can be fatal.

Dr. Ghebrekidan stresses that sanitation and avoiding raw foods and unsafe water or juices is the first step in preventing E.coli. And then it’s tracing the outbreak to its original source.

“The majority of E.coli live in peace or help us. But it will continue to challenge us,” reflects Dr. Ghebrekidan.

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