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E. coli - In Your Home or on Your Food?

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Published on Sep 4, 2014

Escherichia coli (E. coli) are a large group of bacteria found in the environment and the intestines of people and animals. Although most strains of E. coli are harmless and some are an important part of a healthy intestinal tract, others can cause severe illnesses. Some strains can cause diarrhea, urinary tract infections, respiratory illness and pneumonia, and other conditions.

Some types of E. coli are used as markers for water contamination—so one might hear about E. coli being found in drinking water or in a flooded property, which depending on the type might not be harmful, but indicates contamination.

The pathogenic strains of E. coli, meaning they can cause illness, are categorized into pathotypes. Six pathotypes are associated with diarrhea and collectively are referred to as diarrheagenic E. coli. They include the following:
• Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) – STEC may also be referred to as Verocytotoxin- producing E. coli (VTEC) or enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC)
• Enterotoxigenic E. coli (ETEC)
• Enteropathogenic E. coli (EPEC)
• Enteroaggregative E. coli (EAEC)
• Enteroinvasive E. coli (EIEC)
• Diffusely adherent E. coli (DAEC)

Types of E. coli that can cause diarrhea may be transmitted through contaminated water or food, or through contact with infected animals, people or contaminated surfaces.

In a person’s home, this means that any contaminated food or beverages that are consumed could make people sick. Contact with infected feces from a person or animal can also result in infections. If a home has experienced a sanitary sewer overflow (SSO) or flooding, both pathogenic types of E. coli and strains that are not harmful to people could be in the property.

In addition to E. coli, floodwaters and sewage could contain other intestinal bacteria such as Salmonella and Shigella among others. Some types of bacteria associated with sewage may also contain potentially dangerous endotoxins.

Special precautions and personal protective equipment (PPE) should be used by anyone who enters a flooded property to prevent coming into contact with E. coli and other pathogens. Many of these same precautions and hygiene practices should be put in place when attempting to remove flood waters, disposing of water damaged materials and repairing a flood damaged property.

These are just a few things to know about E. coli. To learn more about this or other environmental, health and safety issues, please visit the websites shown in the video.

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