backup og meta
Health Screening
Ask Doctor

E Coli Symptoms and Treatment: Important Facts

Medically reviewed by Mia Dacumos, MD · Nephrology · Makati Medical Center

Written by Shienna Santelices · Updated Aug 15, 2022

E Coli Symptoms and Treatment: Important Facts

Escherichia coli, known as E. coli, is a group of bacteria that naturally lives in the intestines of people and most animals. Its primary function is to help the body break down and digest the food that we consume. However, E. coli has many strains, and some of them are harmful. For this reason, it is important to know E. coli symptoms and treatment to prevent complications from an infection and safeguard your health.

Some people who have contracted some E. coli strains do not get any illnesses at all, while other people experience symptoms of infection. These symptoms often leads to more severe complications. 

In this article, we will discuss E. coli symptoms and treatment to inform you of the dangers of E. coli infection through food consumption.

Sources of E. Coli Infections

Enterohemorrhagic E. coli is the most common strain of E. coli bacteria. It causes severe intestinal infection due to the “Shiga” toxin it produces.

Learning what causes an E. coli infection is part of knowing more about E. coli symptoms and treatment. The following are the common food items that may be contaminated by this bacteria strain:

  • Meat. The slaughtering process can cause contamination as the intestines of one animal get mixed with meat from other animals. Human-to-animal transmission of E. coli starts with eating raw or undercooked meat.
  • Unpasteurized Milk. Freshly pumped milk from cows can be contaminated as the cow’s  milking equipment can acquire E. coli bacteria. Moreover, products made from raw milk, such as soft cheese can also be contaminated. To prevent infection, it is important to heat the milk at a high temperature. This will kill the bacteria before consumption. 
  • Fruits and Vegetables. Some crops are planted near animal farms where animal feces is often used as a natural fertilizer. When this happens, the runoff water from the animal feces may enter fields with crops. In such situations, it is possible that the crops may be contaminated with E. coli bacteria.
  • Contaminated Water. Animal feces combined with rainwater may run through all types of waterways like ponds, rivers, streams, and even city-wide water supplies. If not filtered, the water that we may drink can be contaminated.

E Coli Symptoms and Treatment

Signs and Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of E. coli infection vary for each person. Some people may not experience symptoms at all, and some may display mild symptoms. Others may have severe life-threatening symptoms. People with E. coli infection often start having the symptoms three to four days after consuming contaminated food.

The most common mild symptoms include:

  • abdominal cramps
  • fatigue
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea (some cases also have bloody diarrhea)

Most patients can also get a low-grade fever with a temperature of less than 38.5˚C. But it is important to note that some do not have a fever at all. Patients with mild symptoms can recover within a week, without hospitalization.

5-10% of those infected with E. coli may develop Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS), a dangerous condition where the infection travels in the bloodstream then destroys red blood cells.  Children five years old and below, and patients with severe infection are most at risk.

Doctors consider HUS as a life-threatening illness because it can damage the kidneys. Symptoms of HUS include bloody diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps, and vomiting. And as the syndrome progresses, more symptoms may manifest, such as decreased amounts of urine with blood, fatigue, pale skin, fast heart rate, seizures, and kidney failure

HUS may develop seven days after the occurrence of the first symptom of E. coli infection. Severe diarrhea within three days or longer is considered an emergency that needs immediate hospitalization to treat dehydration.

Treatments for E. Coli Infections

It generally takes five to seven days to recover from E. coli symptoms and treatments are needed to relieve mild symptoms. Such treatments include taking a rest and drinking plenty of fluids. Meanwhile, people with severe symptoms need to be treated through IV fluids. Here’s what you need to know about E. coli symptoms and treatment:

  • Most E. coli infections are manageable by drinking plenty of water and taking a rest. Drinking plenty of fluids helps to replace fluids lost due to diarrhea and/or vomiting, and to prevent dehydration.
  • Taking antibiotics and antidiarrheal medications are not recommended as it will make the infection worse, or might trigger the development of HUS. If you have HUS or are experiencing dehydration, you  may need hospitalization to receive IV fluids and undergo other treatments such as kidney dialysis and blood transfusions.
  • Aside from rest and fluids, lifestyle changes can also help in preventing further complications and dehydration. These involve drinking liquids, avoiding certain food items, and having a healthy diet. People recovering from E. coli infection must only drink water and avoid drinks with caffeine and alcohol.
  • They should also avoid eating dairy products, fatty foods, high-fiber foods, and highly seasoned foods as these make the symptoms worse. After the recovery, your doctor may also recommend dieting.

E Coli Symptoms and Treatment: Key Takeaways

Escherichia coli is a natural group of bacteria that can be found in the intestines of almost all animals and humans. However, some of its strains are harmful and cause an infection that may lead to severe complications and even death. Learning about E. Coli symptoms and treatment are key to properly managing an infection.

The symptoms of E. coli infection are manageable. And if you are infected, you can undergo a full recovery at home. However, some people with severe infections might develop further complications, such as Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS). If this is the case, doctors will treat this illness through IV fluids and other treatments. Fortunately, information about E. coli symptoms and treatment can help you manage the disease. This can help to prevent serious illnesses and relieve symptoms, even at home.

Learn more about Infectious Diseases here.


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

Mia Dacumos, MD

Nephrology · Makati Medical Center

Written by Shienna Santelices · Updated Aug 15, 2022

ad iconadvertisement

Was this article helpful?

ad iconadvertisement
ad iconadvertisement