E. coli on the March; August 2011; Scientific American Magazine; by Christine Gorman; 1 Page(s)
If the full name of any germ could be a household word, it would be Escherichia coli O157:H7, a bacterium that has in the past caused severe food poisoning linked to Jack in the Box hamburgers, Taco Bell lettuce and prepackaged spinach. Now E. coli O157:H7 is being overshadowed by more virulent strains of what is normally a benign gut microbe. This spring a recently identified strain of E. coli, O104:H4, killed dozens of people in Europe and landed hundreds more in the hospital. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now following at least six types of so-called Shiga toxin E. coli, which, like O104:H4 and O157:H7, cause bloody diarrhea and, in extreme cases, fatal kidney failure. Below are some surprising facts you may have missed in this spring’s headlines.
- Antibiotics can worsen an E. coli infection. Giving antibiotics, including fluoroquinolones such as Cipro, can kill a patient who has been sickened by any strain of Shiga toxin E. coli. The reason: when the bacteria die, they release the toxin in massive amounts. Fortunately, one particular group of drugs, called carbapenems, seems to not trigger a major toxin release, but these drugs are generally prescribed only in special circumstances. This explains why travelers who bring antibiotics with them as a precautionary measure should not take them if they develop bloody diarrhea.