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About Escherichia coli Infection


  • E. coli are bacteria found in many places like the intestines of people and animals.
  • Most kinds of E. coli are harmless, but some can make you sick.
  • This site focuses on the kinds of E. coli that cause diarrhea.


E. coli are germs called bacteria. They are found in many places, including in the environment, foods, water, and the intestines of people and animals.

Most E. coli are harmless and are part of a healthy intestinal tract. E. coli help us digest food, produce vitamins, and protect us from harmful germs.

But some E. coli can make people sick with diarrhea, urinary tract infections, pneumonia, sepsis, and other illnesses. This website focuses on the kinds of E. coli that cause diarrhea.

People can get infected after swallowing E. coli.

This can happen through contaminated food or water or contact with animals, environments, or other people.

Some people are more likely to get infected.

Groups of people who are at increased risk for E. coli infection include:

  • Children younger than 5
  • Adults 65 and older
  • People with weakened immune systems
  • International travelers

E. coli infection can be serious.

Infection with Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) can lead to a serious health condition called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). HUS can lead to kidney failure, permanent health problems, and even death.

E. coli infection can be prevented.

The good news is that you can take steps to help keep yourself and your family safe.


About Escherichia coli Infection | E. coli infection | CDC

Laboratory Testing for E. coli –


  • Get guidance for detecting Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC).
  • Learn about testing for other kinds of diarrheagenic E. coli.
  • Submit a STEC specimen to CDC for further characterization.

Testing for STEC

Clinical and public health laboratories can use the following resources for detection and characterization of STEC infections:

Testing for other E. coli

Most U.S. clinical laboratories do not use tests that can detect diarrheagenic E. coli other than STEC, although some have nucleic acid amplification tests available that can detect enterotoxigenic E. coli (ETEC) and other pathotypes.

Public health laboratories can perform additional testing for non-STEC pathotypes; however, these labs usually do so only when investigating an outbreak of diarrheal illness of unknown origin.

In this situation, specimens may be submitted via state health departments to CDC for testing.

Submitting specimens

CDC offers confirmatory identification, serology, serotyping, subtyping, and virulence profiling for STEC.

Note: CDC accepts specimens for analysis only from state public health laboratories and other federal agencies. Private healthcare providers and institutions can submit specimens to their state public health laboratory for processing.


Laboratory Testing for E. coli | E. coli infection | CDC

How to Prevent E. coli infection


  • Some kinds of E. coli can make you sick.
  • The best ways to prevent E coli infection are handwashing, proper food preparation, and avoiding drinking unsafe water.
  • These steps are especially important for some groups of people.
  • These groups include children younger than 5, adults 65 and older, people with weakened immune systems, and international travelers.

Prevention tips

Keep your hands clean.

Handwashing is one of the best ways to protect yourself and other people from getting sick.

Follow four simple steps to food safety: clean, separate, cook, and chill.

E. coli and other harmful germs can be on your kitchen surfaces and in your foods. At home, follow these 4 simple steps to prevent illness.

Do not drink unsafe water.

At home

Having safe drinking water may be as simple as turning on the tap. But sometimes, extra steps are needed to make sure water is safe.

Camping, hiking, or traveling abroad

When camping, hiking, or traveling, always use safe water for drinking, cooking, brushing your teeth, or other activities. Use one of these methods to treat or purify water.


Don’t swallow water when swimming or playing in lakes, ponds, streams, swimming pools, and backyard “kiddie” pools.

Diarrhea and swimming don’t mix!‎

Don’t swim or let others swim if sick with diarrhea.

Drink pasteurized milk and juices.

Pasteurized milk and juices have undergone a process called pasteurization. Pasteurization kills harmful germs, including E. coli. Look for the word “pasteurized” on the label when shopping for milk, dairy products, and juices. If in doubt, don’t buy it!

Source: How to Prevent E. coli infection | E. coli infection | CDC

Risk and E. coli Infection


  • Anyone can get infected with the kinds of E. coli that cause diarrhea.
  • Some groups of people are more likely to get infected or get seriously ill.
  • These groups include children younger than 5, adults 65 and older, people with weakened immune systems, and international travelers.

People at increased risk

Anyone can get an E. coli infection. But some groups of people have an increased chance of infection and getting seriously ill. These groups include:

  • Children who are younger than 5 years
  • Adults who are 65 years and older
  • People who have a weakened immune system
  • International travelers

Why some groups are at risk

Young children

Building a strong immune system takes time. That’s why children younger than 5 are at increased risk for infection. It’s also why they’re more likely to get seriously ill or develop a life-threatening complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS).

Keep in mind‎

Diarrhea in young children can be very serious. Give children with diarrhea extra fluids, such as Pedialyte® or oral rehydration salts. Do not wait.

Older adults

As people age, they are more likely to have factors that can put them at increased risk for infection. These factors can include the immune system not being as strong, using certain medicines, and having less stomach acid. Adults who are 60 or older are also more likely to get seriously ill or develop HUS.

People with a weakened immune system

People with a weakened immune system from an underlying medical condition are at increased risk for infection. These medical conditions include cancer, diabetes, liver disease, kidney disease, and AIDS.

Also, people who take certain medical treatments that can weaken the immune system are at increased risk for infection. These medical treatments include chemotherapy and steroids.

International travelers

International travelers are at increased risk for infection with some kinds of E. coli, including the kind that causes travelers’ diarrhea.

Conditions in some countries make it easier for some kinds of E. coli to spread. These conditions include unsafe drinking water, poor sanitation systems, and unsafe food production and handling practices.

Should I call the doctor?

Contact your healthcare provider if you or your child has: