If you have been paying attention to the news lately, you will have noticed that E. coli has been mentioned often.
So, what exactly is E. coli? Basically, it is the short form for a group of bacteria called Escherichia coli.
Most of the strains of E. coli are harmless and normally live in the intestines of healthy humans and animals.
However, there are a few strains of E. coli that can have very serious effects on people and even cause death.
The majority of cases of E. coli infections are caused by eating contaminated food such as under-cooked ground beef or unpasteurized milk.
Healthy beef and dairy cattle may have E. coli present in their intestines.
Thus, it is possible that the meat or may become contaminated during the slaughtering process.
That being said, it is important not to undercook your beef even if you like it rare.
Using a meat thermometer is a good way to make sure that your meat has reached a suitable temperature.
Another common way to acquire an E. coli infection is from person to person.
If someone has this infection and fails to wash their hands well with soap after using the washroom, they may pass along the germs to other people when they touch things such as doorknobs or food.
Again, we see how important it is to wash our hands frequently and thoroughly.
By far the most dangerous source of E. coli infection is contaminated water.
This was the case in the town of Walkerton, Ont. in 2000 when the water supply was contaminated by farm runoff.
It was reported that at least seven people died from E. coli infections and another 2,500 people became ill.
The symptoms of an E. coli infection begin about seven days after you are infected with the germ.
Normally, the first sign is severe abdominal cramping which begins suddenly.
Shortly after that, watery diarrhea which may be bloody begins.
At this point, some people experience fever, nausea and vomiting.
If you have any off these symptoms it is important to seek help from your physician as soon as possible.
If your physician suspects an E. coli infection he/she will take a stool sample to see if any of the bacteria are present. Currently, there are no specific medications for E. coli infections.
In fact, most doctors will not recommend taking any medications to stop the diarrhea as they will not allow the body to get rid of the bacteria.
The best treatment is drinking plenty of fluid and rest.
The main complication of this type of infection is dehydration. If you are severely dehydrated, you may have to go to the hospital and have fluids administered through an IV.
In order to reduce your chances of being exposed to E. coli, you can follow a few simple precautions.
Firstly, wash all raw produce thoroughly using running water and a scrub brush.
It is not necessary to use soap or commercial cleaners to wash produce, plain water is fine.
Similarly, wash your hands, utensils and kitchen surfaces with hot, soapy water before and after handling fresh produce or raw meat.
Keeping raw foods away from foods that are about to be eaten is also a good idea.
When eating ground beef, make sure that it is well done and cooked to at least 160 F.
There should be no pink showing in the centre.
Never place cooked hamburgers on the same plate you used for the raw patties.
Finally, avoid drinking unpasteurized milk or untreated water. Swallowing water from lakes, streams and even swimming pools is not recommended as it can be contaminated with feces.
As you can see, E. coli bacteria can lead to very serious illnesses and should not be taken lightly.
As professional truck drivers you are constantly on the move and come in contact with many people on a daily basis.
Thus, it is even more important for you to keep in mind these simple hints as they well help to reduce your chances of getting and E. coli infection.
Until next month, drive safely! •
-Dr. Chris Singh, B. Kin., D. C., runs Trans-Canada Chiropractic at 230 Truck Stop in Woodstock, Ont.
Truck News is Canada's leading trucking newspaper - news and information for trucking companies, owner/operators, truck drivers and logistics professionals working in the Canadian trucking industry. All posts by Truck News