Enteric, Zoonotic and Vector-Borne Diseases
While, most strains of E. coli do not cause disease, Verotoxin-producing Escherichia coli (VTEC) is the most frequently identified subgroup of E. coli that causes illness in North America. It can be found in cattle, goats, sheep, and sometimes humans. This type of E. coli was first recognized in 1982 as a result of an outbreak investigation associated with undercooked hamburgers.
VTEC can be transmitted through ingestion of food or water that has been contaminated by the feces of animals or infected persons. Undercooked ground beef, fresh produce such as lettuce, spinach and sprouts, unpasteurized milk and fruit juices, and inadequately treated drinking water have been implicated in large outbreaks of VTEC in North America. Contact with animals and their environments (such as farms or petting zoos) and person-to-person contact with individuals suffering from VTEC infections can also be sources of transmission. Documented outbreaks of person-to-person transmission most often occur in childcare settings, households and institutional settings.
Symptoms can appear between 2 and 10 days with a median of 3-4 days, and can typically include bloody or non-bloody diarrhea, vomiting and severe abdominal cramping. Complications may include Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS), which can occur in up to 8% of infected children. Proper personal hygiene and safe food handling practices are key to preventing the spread of VTEC.