Treating E. coli Symptoms in Preppers – Dos and Don’ts

E. coli

It’s going to be that time of year again soon; one that seems a frequent multistate event nowadays. Known as an E. coli outbreak, the season will begin with Heath Department issuing the obligatory boil notices, while it races to identify the offending cucumber, clover sprout, or cow that started it all.

Of course this is nothing compared with what we can expect during a prolonged disaster. Preppers will likely be the last to get ill. They know to filter and decontaminate their food and water already, and do so routinely in disasters. But when the disease burden of any illness becomes enormous in a population – as it likely will with E. coli – the infection becomes nearly impossible to avoid. This is why Preppers need to know the E. coli Symptoms to watch for, and the dos and don’ts of treating the infection.

It turns out that taking antibiotics for this condition could get you killed! But before we get into that, let’s outline what we’re really dealing with.

What is E. coli & Where Does it Come From?

Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria normally live in the intestines of animals and people. Usually harmless, they help maintain a healthy digestive system. But some strains aren’t so friendly, causing bloody diarrhea, profound dehydration, and even kidney failure. These types of E. coli are typically transmitted through contaminated food and water, or through contact with infected people or animals.

     Transmission to Humans

The cycle is pretty easy to understand. It continues in non-apocalyptic times because the E. coli which are harmful to us, are harmless to farm animals. Harmful strains continue to be prevalent in our nation, because we can’t seem to stop their dissemination in food products that have been contaminated by ruminant feces. While declines in ground beef-related outbreaks have been noted in recent years, they’ve been matched by an increase in cases related to green vegetable ingestion. It seems as if we just can’t win this one.

Escherichia coli

     6 Types of E. coli

Harmful strains are categorized into groups depending upon the disease and symptoms they cause. Six of these are associated with diarrhea. Collectively they are referred to as diarrheagenic E. coli, but there are 2 of particular concern to preppers:

Enterotoxigenic E. coli (ETEC)

This is simple travelers diarrhea (which can be bloody at times).


Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC)

STEC is the one most commonly heard about in the news in association with foodborne outbreaks, and the one most often associated with bloody diarrhea and kidney failure.

ETEC – Travelers Diarrhea

Everyone is familiar with this complication of international travel, and most people realize they’ll recover within a few days. As with all forms of infectious diarrhea, packaged oral rehydration salts or premixed oral rehydration solutions are used to replace fluid losses. Severe cases may require I.V. hydration, especially in young children and the elderly.

What many people don’t know, is people traveling to the United States from Europe, Mexico, and Asia, also get travelers diarrhea from us! In the case of ETEC, the problem is not that the E. coli strains are particularly dangerous to foreigners, but that the strains we have here are new to them, and their GI systems are simply not tolerant of the new bug yet. After resolution of their symptoms, if they ingest these strains while on vacation here a second time, they’ll usually not become ill again.

     Can Antibiotics be Used to Treat ETEC?


Yes, and Cipro seems to be one of the best for this infection. But you must be sure the person really has ETEC, and not STEC – because giving antibiotics to people with STEC can lead to kidney failure, as we will discuss now:

STEC and Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS)

STEC is the type of E. coli you hear about in the news, and are most worried about as a prepper. It’s a problem not only because the diarrhea it produces can quickly kill a person from dehydration, but because it may also cause kidney failure – especially if the sick person takes antibiotics for the illness.

     Don’ts = Antibiotics

One out of four people with this illness will not even suffer from diarrhea, but acute kidney injury occurs in 15% of those with the infection. This figure may reach 50% if antibiotics are used. No one is quite sure how to explain the negative effects of antibiotics in this illness, but without them in the equation, 70-85% of people will recover renal function spontaneously.

E. coli 0157:H7

In North America and Western Europe, 70% of STEC–associated HUS cases are due to E. coli serotype O157:H7. Nearly everyone has heard of that monster, and now you know why it is so feared. It causes damage in the following way:


After ingestion, the E. coli adheres to the lining of the blood vessels in the intestine, and then the kidney. No one is quite sure how they make their way from the intestine to the blood vessels of the kidney, but when they do, they cause damage to its lining. Bleeding and blood clots interfere with kidney function, and the person develops blood urine followed by decreased urine production.

General E. coli Symptoms

After ingesting the STEC bacteria, people usually become ill within 3-4 days. Symptoms often begin slowly with mild abdominal pain and/or non-bloody diarrhea that worsens over the next several days. If HUS is going to occur, it will, on average, 7 days after the first symptoms begin, when the diarrhea is improving.

While the E coli Symptoms of STEC infections vary for each person, most suffer from severe stomach cramps, diarrhea (often bloody), and vomiting. If there is fever, it usually is usually low grade (less than 101˚F/less than 38.5˚C). Most people get better within 5–7 days. Some infections are very mild, but others are severe or even life-threatening.

     Specific HUS E. coli Symptoms

Clues that a person is developing HUS include fatigue, decreased frequency of urination, and losing pink color in the inside of the lower eyelids and in the cheeks. In a non-apocalyptic world, people with HUS are usually hospitalized for monitoring and treatment. Most with HUS recover within a few weeks, but some suffer permanent damage or die.


Dos = Prevention

The following is taken from the CDC. Click on image if you wish to visit the page.

E. coli prevention

Take Home Message:  E. coli infections are hardest on the very young (under 2 or 3) and the very old. Dehydration must be treated aggressively with oral re-hydration solutions, and sometimes I.V. fluids. Simple travelers diarrhea can be treated with antibiotics, which have been shown to shorten the illness if started early, but really should be avoided because they’ve been associated with a marked increase developing subsequent kidney failure in STEC producing strains.    

Happily Adapted From:

Zombie Apocalypse

If you’d like to know more about E. coli and it’s treatment click on the book image above.


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