The News-Leader, a newspaper out of Springfield, Missouri, posted questions and answers about E. coli on its Web site recently:
Q. What is E. coli?
A. E. coli is a bacteria. It is found in things with which we come into contact daily, including water and food. E. coli develops in the system when animals or humans ingest food or water containing the bacteria. Over time, our bodies become acclimated to the stains of E. coli which we have encountered. These strains are usually harmless. If you come into contact with an unfamiliar strain, it can cause a diarrheal illness. One strain, 0157:H7, produces toxins as a byproduct that can damage kidneys and, in rare cases, lead to death.
Q. How can you tell if you’ve come in contact with food or water contaminated with E. coli?
A. Symptoms will usually appear about three days after exposure and may last for a period as short as one day or as long as nine days. In most cases, people develop severe diarrhea and abdominal cramps. Blood is often seen in the stool. Persons with bloody diarrhea should consult a physician for treatment. Fever may or may not be seen. Some infected people may have mild diarrhea or no symptoms at all.