What is E.Coli?
E.coli bacteria normally live in the intestines of humans and several different animals. Most strands of the bacteria are completely harmless and some are actually beneficial to human health. A few strands of the bacteria, however, are harmful and dangerous. Some illness caused by the bacteria can be minor, but other times, it can be much more severe. There are six strands of the e.coli bacteria that cause illness and diarrhea. Those are Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC)- it may also be referred to as Verocytotoxin-producing E. coli (VTEC) or enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC). (this is the one most commonly heard about in the news in association with foodborne outbreaks), enterotoxigenic E. coli (ETEC), enteropathogenic E. coli (EPEC), enteroaggregative E. coli (EAEC), enteroinvasive E. coli (EIEC), and diffusely adherent E. coli (DAEC).
How it Gets into Drinking Water
An e.coli infection can often be contracted through consuming poorly cooked meat, raw milk, or uncooked flour. While these foods are a great risk, the bacteria can also be caught through drinking water you assumed was safe. The bacteria can be found in animal and human feces. Unfortunately, this can make its way into our drinking water sources in a number of ways. The most common way is through runoff from farms after it rains. If this feces makes its way into our drinking water sources and is not filtered out properly, it can easily become very dangerous. Private wells are at a greater risk of containing the e.coli bacteria since they do not have any kind of disinfecting system. You may also contract the infection after swimming in a lake or pool. This is possible is the body of water contains feces and you accidentally swallow the water.
Symptoms of an E.Coli Infection
Symptoms of the infection do not typically appear until several days after a person ingests the bacteria- usually about three to five. The symptoms of e.coli, however, may appear as soon as one day after or may not show up until as late as ten days after. Most infections resolve on their own in around five to seven days without antibiotics. Some infections, however, are much more severe and can require hospitalization. If the infection gets too severe, it could eventually lead to death or at least permanent disablement.
Some early and less severe symptoms include:
- Stomach cramps (abdominal pain)
- Diarrhea that often is bloody
- Fever of about 100 F to 101 F (37.7 C to 38.3 C)
- Loss of appetite
- Mild dehydration
Some later and more concerning symptoms include:
- Hemorrhagic diarrhea (large amounts of blood in the stools)
- Pale skin color
- Severe dehydration
- Little or no urine output
- Severe abdominal pains
- Easy bruising
- Shortness of breath
- Generalized swelling
- Kidney failure
- Excessive bleeding
- Mental changes
How to Know if There is E.Coli in Your Water
The best way to know if there is e.coli in your water, before catching the infection, is to have your water tested by a professional. A water test will be able to show you exactly what is in your water and the contaminants you should be concerned about. It will help you to see an issue before it becomes one. A test will be able to show you several contaminants in your water, more than just e.coli. Once you know what is in your water, you can figure out the next steps to make sure the water you drink is at the highest quality possible.
How to Remove the Bacteria from Your Water
If you are worried about e.coli in your water, there are several filter methods to help remove the bacteria including UV disinfection or Ozone disinfection. An immediate solution, however, is to boil your water and store it in your fridge with a tight lid. Boiling your water will kill all the bacteria.