E. coli Infection | Causes & Risk Factors

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How can I catch E. coli infection?

Most E. coli infections come from:

  • Eating undercooked ground beef (the inside is pink)
  • Drinking contaminated (impure) water
  • Drinking unpasteurized (raw) milk
  • Working with cattle
  • Eating food contaminated with animal feces (such as vegetables)

Healthy beef and dairy cattle may carry the E. coli germ in their intestines. The meat can get contaminated with the germ during the slaughtering process. When beef is ground up, the E. coli germs get mixed throughout the meat.

The most common way to get this infection is by eating contaminated food. You can be infected with the E. coli germ if you don't use a high temperature to cook your beef, or if you don't cook it long enough. When you eat undercooked beef, the germs go into your stomach and intestines.

The germ can also be passed from person to person in day care centers and nursing homes. If you have this infection and don't wash your hands well with soap after going to the bathroom, you can give the germ to other people when you touch things, especially food.

People who are infected with E. coli are very contagious. Children shouldn't go to a day care center until they have 2 negative stool cultures (proof that the infection is gone). Older people in nursing homes should stay in bed until 2 stool cultures are negative.

Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 04/14
Created: 05/99

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