Hamburger Disease (E. Coli)

What is hamburger disease?

Hamburger disease is a well recognized type of “food poisoning” or “foodborne disease”, caused by a strain of E. coli (E. CO-lie) bacteria, called O157:H7.

What are the symptoms?

This infection can cause diarrhea (may be bloody), nausea, stomach cramps, fever and vomiting. Symptoms often begin three to four days after ingesting the bacteria. The illness often lasts between five and 10 days. In some people, especially young children, the infection can cause a serious condition called Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS) in which red blood cells are destroyed and could in turn, lead to kidney failure. HUS may also result in long term kidney damage. People infected by this bacteria will pass it in their feces while they are sick.

How do I know if I have this illness?

If you have the above symptoms, you should see your family doctor, who can arrange to have your stool sample tested. If you think food may have made you sick, call your local Government Services Centre.

How does it spread?

The bacteria that cause this illness can be found mainly in cattle. People can get sick by consuming food or water that may have come into contact with bacteria, like:

  • Animal feces contaminated food or water.
  • Undercooked meat.
  • Raw (non-pasteurized) milk and other dairy products.
  • Foods that have come into contact with dirty surfaces (unwashed cutting boards).
  • Unwashed fruits and vegetables, eaten raw.
  • Touching pets and farm animals, or changing the diapers of infants infected with the bacteria, without proper hand washing.

How is it treated?

Most people who become sick with hamburger disease will get better on their own in about 10 days. People with diarrhea and vomiting must drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Antibiotics do not, in most cases, have any benefit towards treating this illness.

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Last updated: 2019-08-14