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What is E. coli? 

Escherichia coli (E. coli) are a large group of bacteria, some of which are harmless, others that can make you sick. Obviously, it is the latter we often hear about in the news when there is an E. coli outbreak. These types of E. coli can cause severe stomach cramps, diarrhea (often bloody), and vomiting. Most people with an E. coli infection get better within 5 – 7 days, but infection can be life-threatening, especially for the very young, very old, or those with compromised immune systems.

Not the most pleasant thought, but E. coli is spread through swallowing invisible amounts of human or animal feces that contain the bacteria. Infection generally occurs when you consume food or water contaminated with the bacteria. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the best ways to avoid contamination are:

- Wash your hands after using the bathroom, changing diapers and before preparing of eating food. Wash your hands after contact with animals. Cook meats thoroughly.

- Avoid raw milk, unpasteurized dairy products and juices.

- Avoid swallowing water when swimming or playing in lakes, ponds, streams, and swimming pools.

- Prevent cross contamination when preparing food by thoroughly washing hands, counters, cutting boards, and utensils after they touch raw meat.

Carol Scioneaux, RN, CIC, is director of Infection Control at East Jefferson General Hospital. If you need to find a physician in your area, please contact HealthFinder at 504-456-5000.

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