Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

E. coli infection

4-minute read

What is E. coli?

E. coli (Escherichia coli) are a group of bacteria that are found in the gut of nearly all people and animals. There are many different strains of E. coli. Some cause no illness at all. Others cause minor illness, and yet others cause serious illness.

Minor illnesses caused by E. coli

Some strains of E. coli cause a range of minor illnesses including:

Serious illnesses caused by E. coli

Some strains of E. coli cause serious illnesses such as:

E. coli can also cause a serious illness known as haemolytic uraemic syndrome, which damages the blood cells and can cause the kidneys to fail. Symptoms include:

Elderly people, young children and people with a compromised immune system are at greatest risk contracting a severe disease.

How could I get infected?

You can pick up E. coli infections in many different ways, including. You can get it from:

  • contact with contaminated food such as meat (especially undercooked minced meat in hamburgers), unpasteurised dairy products (such as raw milk) and fruit juices, and unwashed raw fruit and vegetables
  • contact with contaminated water, especially in rural areas or in swimming pools
  • personal contact with people who are sick (especially from their vomit or faeces) or from direct contact with animals who carry the bacteria

When should I see my doctor?

See your doctor if:

  • you have diarrhoea that is severe or has blood in it
  • you have a high fever with your diarrhoea
  • you have symptoms of haemolytic uraemic syndrome (see above)
  • the diarrhoea lasts for more than 2 days in an adult, or for more than 24 hours in a baby
  • you get dehydrated
  • you have severe pain in your abdomen or rectum
  • you have signs of a urinary tract infection
  • you are worried that you might have pneumonia
  • you are concerned that your baby is unwell

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — Our Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

How is E. coli diagnosed?

Formal diagnosis of E. coli infection requires laboratory testing of a stool (poo) specimen for the bacterium or the toxic chemicals it releases.

A blood test could also be used to look for antibodies to the infection and to test for haemolytic uraemic syndrome.

How is E. coli treated

Treatment for E. coli depends on what part of the body is infected and how serious the illness is.

If you have diarrhoea and are not very sick, keep hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids such as oral rehydration solution, which is available from pharmacies. If you don’t have a rehydration drink, you can use these drinks after diluting them.

  • Juice or soft drink: mix 1 part drink to 4 parts water (for example, 40 ml drink with 160 ml water).
  • Cordial: mix 1 part cordial to 20 parts water (for example, 5 ml cordial with 100 ml water).

Don’t take anti-vomiting or anti-diarrhoeal medications unless your doctor has recommended them. Most people recover within 5 to 10 days without treatment.

Can E. coli be prevented?

You can reduce your chance of E. coli infection by avoiding risky foods and practising good hygiene. Always wash your hands after going to the toilet or changing a nappy.

It is important to prepare, cook and store your food safely.

Safe food handling will avoid transmitting the infection from one food item to another — for example, from infected raw meat to fresh food. Washing fruits and vegetables that you’ll be eating raw in clean water will also reduce any E. coli contamination.

If you have been sick due to E. coli infection, you can also take steps to avoid infecting others.

  • Wash any bedding, clothing or household surfaces that have been dirtied by diarrhoea or vomit.
  • Avoid preparing food for others in your household for 24 hours after any symptoms disappear.
  • Stay away from work, or keep your child home from childcare or school, until at least 24 hours after any symptoms disappear (48 hours if you work in a care setting or handle food).

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: September 2020


Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Escherichia coli (E. coli) infection | HealthEngine Blog

Escherichia coli (E. coli) is a bacteria found in faeces. When it contaminates food, infection of the gastrointestinal tract and diarrhoea may occur.

Read more on HealthEngine website

Shiga toxin-producing E.coli - Better Health Channel

betterhealth.vic.gov.au

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Escherichia coli (E. coli) detections in drinking water

E. coli are bacteria that are used to monitor faecal contamination in the water.

Read more on Queensland Health website

Hand washing for hygiene | Health and wellbeing | Queensland Government

How to protect yourself from flu, e-coli, measles and other diseases by washing your hands.

Read more on Queensland Health website

Haemolytic Uraemic Syndrome (HUS) fact sheet - Fact sheets

STEC (also known as VTEC) infection can cause serious disease, including bloody diarrhoea, and sometimes haemolytic uraemic syndrome.

Read more on NSW Health website

Traveller's diarrhoea - Better Health Channel

betterhealth.vic.gov.au

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Campylobacteriosis fact sheet - Fact sheets

Campylobacteriosis is one of the most common causes of bacterial gastroenteritis in Australia, and is frequently associated with the consumption of contaminated poultry.

Read more on NSW Health website

Campylobacter

Campylobacter is a bacterial infection that causes gastroenteritis (‘gastro’) in humans.

Read more on Queensland Health website

Gastroenteritis - campylobacteriosis - Better Health Channel

betterhealth.vic.gov.au

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Stool Culture - Lab Tests Online AU

organisms that may grow in culture from the intestine

Read more on Lab Tests Online AU website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Victorian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo