Any time your child is very sick can be frightening and even traumatizing. This is especially true when your child becomes sick from a foodborne illness, commonly known as food poisoning. As a parent, all you want to do is take it away….
Young children are particularly susceptible to bacterial infections such as E.coli. A virulent strain known as E.coli O.157:H7 has historically been responsible for many hospitalizations of children because it can cause hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a deadly form of kidney disease.
How Do You Know if Your Child is Infected With E. Coli?
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) warns parents to lookout for the following symptoms and warning signs for E. coli infection:
- Severe stomach cramps
- Diarrhea (which is often bloody in STEC E. coli particularly)
- Possible low grade fever
As a parent, you will “gut-know” when something is wrong. By all means, trust this intuition. It’s also important to remember that most cases resolve within five to seven days. However, some complications can be life-threatening, such as hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). HUS can present as if your child is improving (lessening of diarrhea), but the CDC recommends that you take your child to the physician if the diarrhea lasts more than three days and secondary symptoms such as vomiting, not being able to urinate much, high fever, or blood in the stool is present.
Doctors can make mistakes, and in some cases he will prescribe antibiotics, thinking the child has a more common bacterial infection. However, antibiotics should not be used to treat E. coli because it can increase the risk of complications. If you suspect that your child has an E. coli infection, it is vital that the doctor order a stool sample as this is the only way to confirm the diagnosis.
Immediate medical attention is super important and could reduce the risk of more severe illness or long-term complications of an E. coli illness.
The Story of a Bully
E has been around for a long, long time. He was given his formal name, Escherichia coli back in 1885 when it was discovered that he was the culprit behind acute diarrhea in infants and young children. His most common and perhaps dastardly form is E. coli O157:H7.
E is a tyrant. He has many cohorts in the world of foodborne pathogens, but he is strong, sneaky, and double-crossing. He seeks to, and indeed has, invaded the food we regularly consume, like meat and produce. We become just like that poor kid on the school playground who is completely whammied by the evil eyes and sneers of E, cleverly disguised in many of the foods we love to eat. In the manner of the bully we want to avoid, E entices us. What we thought of as a “friendly” hamburger or a harmless salad has turned on us.
No parent can stand the thought of having their child bullied. And even though foodborne pathogens are not your typical playground bully, they are as unrelenting as the same. Bullies love to play dirty, and euphemisms aside, that is where he is known to lurk: specifically in feces. Ewww!! How can that be enticing?
Where E.coli Lurks
E.coli is known to contaminate a variety of foods, such as leafy green vegetables, fruit juices, meat, and creamy salad dressings.
- Leafy green vegetables and the surfaces of many other vegetables, including chick peas and bean sprouts (wash ALL produce before consuming)
- Creamy salad dressing (was it left out at room temperature?)
- Fruit juice (was it pasteurized or left out to come to room temperature?)
- Meat (raw and/or undercooked meat is always a danger: make sure to cook all meat to its proper internal temperature – at least 165 degrees F)
- Did I wash my hands and utensils thoroughly?
Recent E.coli Outbreak
In June 2018, Make Food Safe reported on an outbreak associated with the E.coli bacterium in which 210 people in 36 states became ill, having reported their illness during the time period of March 13, 2018 through June 6, 2018. However, this outbreak is concluded insofar as the shelf life of the product is only two weeks. According to the FDA, the trace back information indicated that the illnesses cannot be explained by “a single grower, harvester, processor, or distributor”, although it appears that it originated from the Yuma, California growing region. Contamination could have occurred at any point along the continuum along the growing, harvesting, packaging, and distribution chain before reaching stores. This scary information should be taken within the context of always being proactive in our approach to food safety as it is one of the best things to do in order to combat foodborne illnesses.
The FDA offers sound advice:
Consumers should always practice safe food handling and preparation measures. It is recommended that they wash hands, utensils, and surfaces with hot, soapy water before and after handling food.
For refrigerators and other food preparation surfaces and food cutting utensils that may have come in contact with contaminated foods, it is very important that the consumers thoroughly clean these areas and items.
Consumers should follow these simple steps:
- Wash the inside walls and shelves of the refrigerator, cutting boards and countertops; then sanitize them with a solution of one tablespoon of chlorine bleach to one gallon of hot water; dry with a clean cloth or paper towel that has not been previously used.
- Wash hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food.
- Wipe up spills in the refrigerator immediately and clean the refrigerator regularly.
- Always wash hands with hot, soapy water following the cleaning and sanitization process. (Source: fda.gov)
It goes without saying that our bully E. coli is a living organism because it is a bacterium, but it does not think and its intentions are not malevolent. But giving E.coli a personality of sorts helps to metaphorically align it with our perceptions of how to tackle it. When it comes to E. coli, it is always best to be safe than sorry – go to the doctor.
By: Kerry Bazany, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)