The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board has closed down part of Lake Calhoun due to an E Coli Outbreak. The beach branch is called Calhoun 32nd Beach, and the specific location can be found at the Park and Rec homepage.
Most of the information we know about E Coli is from studies of a particular bacteria called E Coli 0157, also known as Escherichia coli. However it is important to note that there is also a Serogroup of E Coli, referred to as STEC, and much less is known about this bacteria and its effects. E Coli is always present in lakes as it is a naturally occurring bacteria. However, the Park and Rec board considers numbers above 1,260 to be dangerous enough to be called an “Outbreak,” and subsequently closes the beach. The number yesterday was 1,643. E Coli bacteria is present in the intestines of ruminant animals, including cattle, goats, sheep, deer and elk. Other animals, such as pigs and birds, may also carry E Coli or STEC if they live in the same environment with these animals. E Coli does not make animals sick, yet they can carry and spread the bacteria to humans who can get ill from contamination.
Former E Coli Outbreaks have been linked to ingesting contaminated food such as hamburger or lettuce, or close contact with animals in areas such as petting zoos. People have also contracted E Coli from eating food that was prepared after the staff had not properly washed their hands. There is an incubation period for symptoms to occur, and while some people may feel sick one day after coming in contact with the bacteria, for others the symptoms won’t manifest for three to four days after exposure. Symptoms usually begin with stomach cramps low-grade fever, (less than 101 degrees Fahrenheit.) Symptoms advance to excessive diarrhea, sometimes accompanied by blood. Some people also experience vomiting. Most people will feel better in five to seven days. The most extreme cases affect about five to ten percent of people exposed to STEC and develop into a potentially life-threatening disease called Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome, or HUS. HUS can cause kidneys to stop working, and in addition to the usual symptoms of STEC contamination, the person usually exhibits decrease in urination.
One of the concerns with E Coli contamination is that since it mimics food poisoning (or stomach flu,) people may try to treat symptoms on their own by ingesting anti-diarrheal products such as Immodium. Many healthcare workers have suggested that medicine such as Immodium is dangerous for any type of illness that causes diarrhea, because if the body is trying to eliminate toxins through diarrhea and/or vomiting, and the infected person takes medicine to stop those symptoms, the toxins simply stay in their systems. Regardless of the cause of diarrhea and/ or vomiting, it is advised by the CDC that people contact their healthcare providers, especially if these symptoms last for more than 3 days, or if the patient also suffers from high fever, blood in the stool or dehydration. If a person does go to the doctor for these symptoms, E Coli and STEC infections can be identified through testing of feces in a lab.
Antibiotics do not work in the case of E Coli contamination, and the best advice is for people to rest and stay hydrated until symptoms go away. It is also worth noting that while we all should engage in thorough hand-washing techniques all of the time, a person infected with E Coli or STEC should be even more careful about this practice, as it has been found that the person continues to shed the bacteria in their feces even after symptoms of E Coli are no longer present. Most people do not wash their hands for long enough to get rid of bacteria. A representative from the Occupational Safety Hazards Administration, (OSHA,) once counseled people that the best way to wash your hands is to use hot water and soap, massage your hands to make sure that the soapy water gets in all the crevices, and sing the song “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” in your head. According to this representative, the average time it takes to sing that song is the minimum amount of time that each person should spend washing their hands.
Approximately 265,000 people in the United States are infected with E Coli each year.
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