The recent E. coli outbreaks in Europe have serious implications for people who already have kidney problems, but also for those who want to avoid them. We usually hear about the initial severe symptoms of E. coli infection – the gastroenteritis and bloody diarrhea – but reports don’t always mention one of the potential deadly side effects: kidney failure. Yet this is something that can haunt a person for years after the initial infection has passed.
E. coli (proper name Escherichia coli) is a form of bacteria, and most strains are fairly harmless. In fact, every person carries a certain amount in their system already. But the nastiest strains produce toxins that can cause serious digestive problems. Even worse, they can result in Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS), in which the vascular system (that is, the blood delivery system), becomes severely damaged. The result can be high blood pressure, but also damage to various organs, including the kidneys, which often leads to renal failure.
E. coli infection may stem from a few possible causes. For example, if one consumes undercooked ground beef, where the inside of a burger is pink, that may allow transmission of the bacteria. Cattle are the prime carrier, so even working with cows may put a person at risk. But one may also encounter the bacteria by drinking contaminated water or unpasteurized milk.
The latest incidence of E. coli contamination underscores how important it is to eat and live in as sanitary a way as possible. Proper food preparation is very important, yet the first and best place to start is simple hygiene. Washing one’s hands after they’ve been soiled in some way can do a lot to keep them bacteria-free. We should also thoroughly wash our fresh fruits and vegetables, and try to ensure that we’ve gotten them from a safe source. And if we find ourselves around someone who is already dealing with E. coli, giving them their own utensils and engaging in thorough hygiene can prevent the bacteria from being passed on.
After the worst E. coli outbreaks, kidney disease is always a prevalent legacy. Kidney health is so important that when we know something like this bacteria can destroy it, we must take the steps that will protect us from it. Most cases of food poisoning are relatively benign, but all it takes is contact with one very bad strain of this bacteria, and our lives could change forever, and for the worse.