The bacteria Escherichia coli (E. coli) are frequently located in the gastrointestinal tract of different animal species (1). Interestingly, majority of the strains of this bacterium do not promote any harm to human beings and are actually helpful in the normal digestive process of the body. In addition, this bacterium generates vitamin K, an essential element for successful processing of proteins that bind calcium in the human body. The safe strains of E. coli also defend the human body from invasion of other harmful kinds of bacteria.
However, there are particular E. coli strains that are unsafe to human health. One strain that is harmful is ingested by humans is E. coli O157:H7, a strain that results in food poisoning (2). Detection of the O157:H7 strain in food products often causes food manufacturers to recall their products from the market before it harms more people that would eat these food products. In cases wherein E. coli is not located in the intestinal region of the animals, this bacterium may also be found in the environment. Scientific research has already established that E.
coli may be employed as an indicator of contamination of different substrates that may be collected from the environment. This bacterial species has also been well studied in biological research because it is very simple to propagate and the genome size of E. coli is relatively small and easy to manipulation using genetic technologies. The harmful E. coli strain O157:H7 has been observed to secrete toxic proteins that may cause extreme health conditions in a person who has ingested a food product that harbors this particular strain.
The specific source of this strain is generally the intestinal tract of the cows, which are usually processed at the slaughter house and repackaged as meat products. It has also been determined that O157:H7 may also contaminate the milk of an infected cow. Other possible sources of contaminated meat include half-cooked ground beef and it is often difficult to determine by sight and smell if a meat product is contaminated because it usually looks very similar to uncontaminated meat. These harmful bacteria can also be present in vegetables such as lettuce and spinach, as well as unclean water that is used for drinking.
The O157:H7 E. coli can also be spread further in society through improper hygienic procedures. One of the most important hygienic activities is washing hands, especially after using the toilet. It has been reported that poor training of individuals who take care of young children often times result in further transmission of bacteria from the feces of the young children to the hands of the caretaker or babysitter. More importantly, other children who are playing with the infected child may also be acquired the harmful bacteria during their interactions during playtime. Infection with E.
coli O157:H7 is often observed through several symptoms, including diarrhea, fatigue, stomach ache and fever. The incubation period of the disease takes from 2 to 5 days, starting from the day of the exposure and infection. The symptoms of the infection often last for several days. In the hospital, a stool sample is generally collected from which the E. coli bacteria are often identified through biochemical testing in the microbiological laboratory. Treatment of the patients infected with this strain of bacteria usually includes taking anti-fever medications such as paracetamol or ibuprofen.
In addition, it is essential for the patient to take lots of fluids in order to replace the water that has been lost by the body through several episodes of diarrhea. The disease can also be prevented by thoroughly cooking meats that will be consumed in a meal (3). Frequent washing of hands also prevents the spread of any bacteria that may be present in different surfaces and environment that an individual is exposed to (4,5). Clean drinking water should also be used instead of water from any other sources that is doubtful in terms of its sterility.
References 1. Adult Health Advisor (2007): E. coli infection. Clinical Reference Systems. 2. Pearson, H (2007): The dark side of E. coli. Nature 445:7123. 3. Park, D-K, Bitton B and Melker R (2006): Microbial inactivation by microwave radiation in the home environment. J. Environ. Health 69:17(8). 4. —- (2005): Food poisoning cases must be handled with care. Lancet 366:1332. 5. Williams, RM (2003): Irradiated food in school lunches. Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients 243:56(2).