Industry of interest: Healthcare, Food Industry
Microbiology: E. coli is a facultatively anaerobic, Gram-negative rod that is ubiquitous in nature. E. coli can grow in conditions of up to 49°C and are extremely motile through the use of its peritrichous flagellae. E. coli is part of a larger group of bacteria called the Enterobacteriaceae. E. coli pathogenic serotypes have been divided into several different pathotype groups that include: enterohaemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC), enteroinvasive E. coli (EIEC), enteroaggregative E. coli (EAggEC), enteropathogenic E. coli (EPEC), and enterotoxigenic E. coli (ETEC) (Donnenberg and Kaper, 1992).
Habitat and transmission: Most E. coli form part of the normal intestinal flora withoutconsequence; however some strains of E. coli are pathogenic. The presence of E. coli can be used as an indicator for faecal contamination (Spears et al., 2006). E. coli can be spread via contaminated water and foods, through person-to-person contact or contact with contaminated items.
Treatment and antibiotic resistance: E. coli infections are in general self-limiting, lasting only a few days. However, for most hospital cases and more serious cases in the community, antibiotic treatment may be required.
Prevention and control: Good sanitation, proper hand hygiene, food hygiene standards and environmental cleaning and disinfection should all limit transmission of E. coli infections. Healthcare workers should use contact precautions when caring for patients with E. coli infections, particularly those with E. coli O157:H7 and O104:H4 epidemic strains.
Disease and symptoms: E. coli can cause a wide range of symptoms, most commonly it causes gastroenteritis, but it can also cause peritonitis, wound infections meningitis, urinary tract infections (UTIs), haemolytic uraemic syndrome and kidney failure (Donnenberg and Kaper, 1992). However, the exact disease symptoms depend on the infecting strain of E. coli. The infective dose for E. coli infection also varies widely as 108/1010 microorganisms have to be ingested to cause EPEC symptoms whereas EHEC only requires ingestion of around 102 microorganisms to cause disease symptoms (Mellies et al., 2007). E. coli is also a very common cause of traveller’s diarrhoea, which can occur through eating or drinking contaminated foods and water (Donnenberg and Kaper, 1992).
Donnenberg M.S. and Kaper J.B. (1992) Enteropathogenic Escherichia coli. Am Soc Microbiol. 60(10): 3953-3961.
Mellies J.L., Barron A.M.S. and Carmona A.M. (2007) Enteropathogenic and enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli virulence gene regulation. 75(9): 4199-4210.
Spears K.J., Roe A.J. and Gally D.L. (2006) A comparison of enteropathogenic and enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli pathogenesis. FEMS Microbiol Lett. 255(2): 187-202.