What does e.coli mean to you?

If someone asked you what the main way by which people become infected by e. coli is, what would you say?

I left the wording of the main question a little clumsy to avoid any bias in the actual language of the question.

This is just to answer a question that came up between me and a friend.

If you’re a health care professional, epidemiologist or have some specialized knowledge of microbiology and infection, please say so in your answer.


spoilered to avoid contaminating the results.

Food poisoning, specifically from eating raw meat.

[spoiler]Food born Illness. Diarrhea, cramps, fever, vomiting etc Lasts about a week.
Typically comes from cows, found in beef, milk (not washing udders), can be found in unwashed produce (run off from cow shit on farms), can be found in water (again, usually run off from farms). Can also move from human to human, usually from not washing your hands after going to the bathroom.

Joey P
ServSafe Certified
Certified Wisconsin Food Manager (Which, coincidentally, expires on June 1st and I have to retake the class)[/spoiler]
ETA spoiler

Yeah, that is vague.

Healthcare professional here (IANAD/N), though this isn’t really my area.

Is ‘fecal-oral transmission’ too vague? How about improper food prep methods (not washing produce, not washing hands before/during food prep, undercooking meat) and contaminated food sources? Food can be contaminated via being beef from infected cattle, via sewage runoff, or fertilized by contaminated manure.

My first thought was bad water.

Thanks for the spoilers, everyone! That’s a really good idea

Your first phrase is what I would say too, and I would have said that before I started in health care, but then again that might be because for most of my life I’ve been vegetarian

Well, you already are infected with e. coli – it occurs naturally in your lower digestive tract and is harmless. However, ingesting certain strains of it, usually in meat, can be dangerous.

Well, without reading the others I’m going to say:

It’s typically found in poop, although I know that it somehow can be present in uncooked meat, particularly ground beef and chicken.

Now, let’s see just how wrong I was…

Me too, actually, but I do think that my first sentence is too vague for most people who aren’t involved in health care. They wouldn’t think of all the various ways of transmitting those bacteria around, and might think that one just has to wash their hands after going to the bathroom.

Nursing student here:

Poop. ahem sorry, “oral-fecal route bacteria”. Which means it can come from yourself, if you don’t wash your hands thoroughly. If a person is incontinent or has diarrhea, it’s more likely to spread. It can be from meat, if some poop came into contact with the hands or saws they use to butcher meat. It can be on vegetables, if a fieldhand didn’t wash his hands after going to the toilet, or if they drop one in the field, or if contaminated water is used to irrigate the crops.

Had a patient this week with a leg sore infected with e.coli *and *proteus *and *e. faecalis, which means someone wasn’t being careful while cleaning her wound at home. That smelled NASTY and looked just horrible.

I have a microbiology degree:

E. coli is a normal, natural part of our gut flora. However, there are a large number of strains, a small number of which can be pathogenic. Strains spread from one person to another largely through the fecal-oral route. Although large-scale contaminated food outbreaks get lots of media attention, it happens all the time on smaller scales, as evidenced by the fact that people living in the same area tend to have similar populations in their guts. This is why you can go to Mexico, for instance, and pick up a strain that leaves you on the toilet for a few days, while the natives, who are used to it, cope just fine.

Also, Gestalt, Being a vegetarian isn’t all that much of a protection. Norwalk virus, for instance, infamous for cruise ship outbreaks, is also usually spread through the fecal-oral route, but via lettuce and other salad greens. Raw plant food doesn’t have the added protection of cooking to destroy any germs present.

Isn’t it usually tainted vegetables, at least in the US?

[spoiler]I’d say fecal-oral transmission.

If you’re talking about food poisoning, it’s probably from bad meat contaminated with animal feces, or other food or water that’s come into contact with tainted meat. But, plenty of people get E. coli UTIs, and you can’t blame the cow poop on those.

I’m a medical laboratory scientist, so I’ve seen plenty of happy little E. coli colonies growing on agar plates. [/spoiler]

My understanding is/was much as Smeghead’s first spoiler. (Although I would not have articulated it nearly as well.) I have no medical degree.

A man I knew in college recently had an systemic infestation of his own e.coli strain. The doctors said that they could not explain how it got into his blood system, but were able to tell it was his own strain (from the DNA? It wasn’t made clear to me how they knew.)

In fact, I remember a case from a while ago of a girl who died from an E. coli infection acquired by drinking nonpasteurized apple cider. It had been made from apples that had fallen to the ground naturally, and so was in contact with dirt and who knows what else. Offered as evidence that it can happen with E. coli as well as Norwalk virus.

Gee, if there ever was a question for which a “SPOILER” tag was appropriate.

Ingestion of food contaminated by fecal-borne bacteria.

I was going to give an answer based on my knowledge, picked up in a microbio course and using E. coli in molecular biology. But I see Smeghead beat me here, so…

checking… yeah, what he said.

Took parasitology in college:

[spoiler]Fecal-oral transmission of Escherichia coli, potentially causing gastrointestinal problems, sometimes severe ones.

It also means Entamoeba coli, a poor, harmless commensal just trying to get along and unfairly confused with both the more famous E. coli and its nastier lookalike cousin Entamoeba histolytica.

It also signifies in my mind the truly vile odor of Escherichia coli culture, which is maybe the only thing that triggered my gag reflex during my days as a biology student.[/spoiler]

E. coli victim:

[spoiler]I had already known about the food-borne and dirty-hand borne pathways. This is different.

At the very start (literally … it was the first day) of a two-week dream vacation (a week at a luxury hotel in Florida followed by a cruise with Micky Hart, Bill Kreutzmann, and a host of other jam bands) I had this bad to horrible to unbearable pain build up in my abdomen. The cause: a severely perforated diverticulitis compounded by a tenacious infection. Kept me hospitalized for two weeks, on antibiotics for a month, and I am (four months later) going through another course of antibiotics to kill off the nastiness that won’t. go. away.

E. Coli = pain, lost vacations, and more pain. Fortunately for me at the time, it didn’t = death.
(I know there is more than E. Coli in the mix, but that is the most prevalent organism that came up in the cultures.)[/spoiler]


Food “poisoning” (it’s actually an infection, but for some reason that’s the term used). It can be due to food badly cooked or to cross contamination from raw sources once cooked, IIRC. And like ‘gutworms’ (cba looking up what are those really called in English right now, dictionaries insist in thinking I’m talking about earthworms), it can come from fecal contamination too, in which case no food need be involved.

I think this is the most spoilered thread ever.