Medical Q&As

E. coli - what is it?

Could you explain to me what exactly is E. coli?

E. coli is an abbreviation for Escherichia coli, which is a bacterium that inhabits the gut in man and in animals. E. coli is the commonest cause of urinary tract infection. The organism is also commonly found in wounds and abscesses. It is sometimes found in the respiratory tract of very debilitated people. Constant vigilance is required to prevent outbreaks of E. coli infection in paediatric units where it can cause serious outbreaks of severe gastroenteritis, which can be lethal to very ill or premature babies. E. coli contamination of meat has been responsible for outbreaks of gastroenteritis in the community. The meat contamination has been traced to poor hygiene in abattoirs where bacteria from the gut of slaughtered animals have contaminated the meat for human consumption. Various strains of E. coli have been identified and particular strains have been implicated as the causative agents in outbreaks of gastroenteritis. Some strains are more virulent than others and their susceptibility to the effects of antibiotic therapy can vary. However, urinary tract infection, which is the commonest form of E. coli infection that we see in general practice, is readily treatable with conventional antibiotics.