E coli enteritis is swelling (inflammation) of the small intestine from Escherichia coli (E coli) bacteria. It is the most common cause of travelers' diarrhea.
E coli is a type of bacteria that lives in the intestines of humans and animals. Most of the time, it does not cause any problems. However, certain types (or strains) of E coli can cause food poisoning. One strain (E coli O157:H7) can cause a severe case of food poisoning.
Bacteria may get into your food in different ways:
Food poisoning can occur after eating or drinking:
Although not common, E coli can be spread from one person to another. This may happen when someone does not wash their hands after a bowel movement and then touches other objects or someone else's hands.
Symptoms occur when E coli bacteria enter the intestine. Most of the time symptoms develop 24 to 72 hours after being infected. The most common symptom is sudden, severe diarrhea that is often bloody.
Other symptoms may include:
Symptoms of a rare but severe E coli infection include:
Your health care provider will perform a physical exam. A stool culture can be done to check for disease-causing E coli.
Most of the time, you will recover from the most common types of E coli infection within a couple of days. The goal of treatment is to make you feel better and avoid dehydration. Getting enough fluids and learning what to eat will help keep you or your child comfortable.
You may need to:
You can drink oral rehydration mixtures to replace fluids and minerals lost through vomiting and diarrhea. Oral rehydration powder can be purchased from a pharmacy. Be sure to mix the powder in safe water.
You can make your own rehydration mixture by dissolving one half teaspoon (3 grams) of salt, one half teaspoon (2.5 grams) of baking soda and 4 tablespoons (50 grams) of sugar in 4¼ cups (1 liter) of water.
You may need to get fluids through a vein (IV) if you have diarrhea or vomiting and cannot drink or keep enough fluids in your body. You will need to go to your provider's office or the emergency room.
If you take diuretics (water pills), talk to your provider. You may need to stop taking the diuretic while you have diarrhea. Never stop or change medicines without first talking to your provider. You can buy medicines at the drugstore that can help stop or slow diarrhea. Do not use these medicines without talking to your provider if you have bloody diarrhea or a fever. Do not give these medicines to children.
Most people will get better in a few days, without treatment. Some uncommon types of E coli can cause severe anemia or kidney failure.
Call for an appointment with your provider if:
Reviewed By: Michael M. Phillips, MD, Clinical Professor of Medicine, The George Washington University School of Medicine, Washington, DC. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.