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HealthInfo Canterbury


E. coli (Escherichia coli) is a group of bacteria (germs). E. coli normally lives in the gut of healthy people and animals. Most types of E. coli are harmless. But some can cause diarrhoea and an infection called gastroenteritis.

E. coli is spread by contact with contaminated food, particularly raw vegetables, yoghurt and cheese. Also meats such as undercooked minced beef, sausages and salami. E. coli travels easily and fast from person to person if infected people don't wash their hands properly.

Symptoms include severe stomach cramps, and diarrhoea that can be bloody. Some people feel sick and vomit. Most people get better within five to seven days.

The symptoms are generally mild. But they can be more serious in young children, older people, and people with poor immune systems.

How can I avoid getting E. coli?

The best ways to avoid getting E. coli are to practise good hand hygiene and follow food safety advice.

How is E. coli treated?

There's no specific treatment for E. coli. The treatment is aimed at relieving symptoms. You should rest and drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.

When and where should I seek help?

You should see your GP if you have bloody diarrhoea or a fever, or if your symptoms haven't gone away after seven days. You should also see your GP if you're very unwell or have a weakened immune system.

You should take your child to your GP if they aren't drinking, if they're passing less urine than usual, or if they seem drowsy.

How can I avoid spreading E. coli?

You can be infectious for one to three weeks after your diarrhoea starts, although the risk of spreading the infection is reduced once your diarrhoea has stopped. To reduce the risk of spreading the infection, it's important to have good hand hygiene. This includes washing your hands with soap and water.

Try to avoid preparing food if you have E. coli. If you do prepare food, make sure you wash and dry your hands well first. Wash all utensils and surfaces well if they've been exposed to fresh food or raw meat. Follow this food safety advice.

Stay away from work, community gatherings and school or preschool until you or your child have been free of symptoms for 24 to 48 hours. This includes the last time you had diarrhoea.

You should wait for at least two weeks after the last episode of diarrhoea before you go swimming in a pool.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed June 2018.


See also:

About diarrhoea & vomiting (gastroenteritis)

Diarrhoea & vomiting in children

Page reference: 49719

Review key: HIGTE-81185