The importance of eating the right diet for our overall health and well-being cannot be overemphasized.
It is also an established fact that a healthy diet comprises eating a variety of foods. For a convalescent, however, care has to be taken not to make their condition worse.
Convalescents are often placed on special diets. This also applies to persons suffering or recovering from E. coli infection, as not all food substances are ideal for persons in such a condition.
E. coli: What are they?
Escherichia coli (E. coli) are facultative anaerobic bacteria that live naturally in the gastrointestinal tract (GIT) of humans, cattle, sheep, poultry, and other animals.
Most E. coli is harmless to humans, but some strains carry genes that make them able to cause diseases. The harmless or non-pathogenic E. coli in the human gut is referred to as commensal E. coli due to the unique relationship they have with their hosts.
On the other hand, those that cause diseases are referred to as pathogenic E. coli. Pathogenic.
E.coli has been implicated in a wide range of diseases that affect both animals and humans around the world, including:
- Urinary tract infection (UTI)
- Neonatal meningitis
There are eight E. coli pathogenic variants that have been extensively studied.
The eight well-defined E. coli pathogenic variants can be broadly classified as either diarrhoeagenic E. coli or extraintestinal E. coli (ExPEC).
The diarrhoeagenic E. coli (which consist of six pathovars) include:
- Enteropathogenic E.coli (EPEC)
- Enterohaemorrhagic E.coli (EHEC)
- Enterotoxigenic E.coli (ETEC)
- Enteroinvasive E.coli (EIEC; including Shigella)
- Enteroaggregative E.coli (EAEC) and
- Diffusely adherent E.coli (DAEC).
While the extraintestinal E. coli (ExPEC) are the Uropathogenic E. coli (UPEC) and the Neonatal meningitis E. coli (NMEC)
General characteristics of E. coli
Escherichia coli belongs to the family Enterobacteriaceae, which are Gram-negative facultatively anaerobic rod-shaped bacteria (possessing both a fermentative and respiratory metabolism) and do not produce the enzyme oxidase.
Escherichia coli cells are typically 2–6 micrometers long and 1.1–1.5 micrometers wide. They are found as single straight rods. E. coli can be either motile or nonmotile.
When motile, they produce polar flagella. In addition to flagella, some strains also produce fimbriae or pili, which are proteinaceous structures (or appendages or fibers) that extend outwards from the bacterial surface and play a role in the attachment of cells to other cells or to host tissues.
How do people get E. coli infections?
Both animals and humans can be carriers of E. coli without showing signs of any illness. They can then spread the bacteria to foods, surfaces, or other people.
The most common ways people contract E. coli are by eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated water.
This may be through meat contaminated with E. coli; food handled by a person infected with E. coli; cross-contamination when raw foods are handled improperly; or untreated water.
One can be exposed to E.coli by:
- Eating raw and undercooked meat
- Eating contaminated raw fruits and vegetables
- Swallowing contaminated water
- Drinking unpasteurized milk and eating raw milk products like cheese ∙ drinking unpasteurized apple juice/cider and
- Contact with the feces (stool) of an infected person, cattle, or other farm or domesticated animals.
How to prevent the spread of E. coli infection
E. coli contamination is usually spread when feces come in contact with food and water. Hence, limiting the possibility of such occurrences reduces the chance of spreading the infection. Some helpful measures to limit the spread of the infection are:
- Eating raw and undercooked meat should be discouraged
- All vegetables should be well-washed before consumption
- Hand washing with soap should be embraced by all especially when preparing food, and after handling raw meat.
- Floors, countertops, cooking tools, and utensils should be washed often with soapy water, especially after contact with raw meat.
- Raw meat should always be separated from other foodstuffs.
- Washing hands thoroughly with soap after making use of the toilets or changing diapers should be normalized for all. Also, soiled diapers and stools should be carefully disposed of.
- Swimming pools should be regularly treated
- Persons dealing with E. coli infections should avoid preparing food for others, sharing bathrooms (if possible), and making use of swimming pools.
What are the symptoms of E. coli infection?
People infected with E. coli can have a wide range of symptoms. Though some can be asymptomatic can still spread the infection to others.
E. coli symptoms include:
- Feverish feelings
- Severe stomach cramps
- Watery or bloody diarrhea
Most symptoms clear up within five to ten days. But some people who are infected with E. coli develop life-threatening symptoms, including kidney failure, seizures, and stroke. While most will recover completely, others may suffer permanent health effects, like kidney damage, and some may even die.
Although anyone can get an E. coli infection, pregnant women, persons with compromised immune systems, young children, and older adults are most at risk for developing serious complications.
There is no real treatment for E. coli infections, other than monitoring the illness, providing comfort, and preventing dehydration through proper hydration and nutrition.
When do symptoms appear after an E. coli infection?
The time between swallowing the STEC bacteria and feeling sick is called the “incubation period.” This incubation period is normally 3-4 days after the exposure, but may also be as short as 1 day or as long as 10 days.
The symptoms often begin slowly with mild abdominal pains or non-bloody diarrhea that worsens over several days. Hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS), if it occurs, develops an average of 7 days after the first symptoms of diarrhea.
Best Food for Someone Suffering from E. coli Infection
In many cases, supportive care, such as close attention to hydration, nutrition, and rest is encouraged for people sick with E. coli as there is no specific therapy to halt E. coli symptoms.
During the infection, eating bland foods is recommended. These bland foods can be taken by persons recovering from an E. coli infection
- Weak tea
- Apple juice or flat soda
- Boiled or baked potatoes
- Cooked cereals, like oatmeal or cream of wheat
Foods to avoid for someone recovering from E. coli
- Raw vegetables
- Very hot or very cold drinks
- Coffee, or caffeinated drinks
- Milk and other dairy products
- Fried, greasy, fatty, or spicy foods
- Acidic fruits, limes, grapes, lemons, and oranges
- Proteins, such as steak, pork, salmon, and sardines
People who develop complications from E. coli infections may need further treatment, like dialysis for kidney failure. Always contact your healthcare provider if symptoms persist.
Last Updated on July 8, 2023 by Our Editorial Team