What is Shiga toxin-producing Ecoli (STEC) infection?
Shiga toxin-producing E. coli are bacteria that can cause severe illness and even death.  Some E. coli are harmless and live in human digestive tracts; however, certain E. coli can cause illness.

How common is STEC infection? 
CDC estimates that there are 265,000 infections each year in the US.  Colorado has averaged about 214 cases per year (from 2013-2017). Many STEC infections may not be reported since some people may not seek medical care when they are ill, or may not be tested for their illness.

What are the symptoms of STEC?
Most people will have symptoms appear in 3-4 days after being exposed to the source of STEC; however, symptoms could appear in as short as 1 day or as long as 10 days following exposure.

Symptoms of infection with STEC may include stomach cramps, diarrhea, bloody diarrhea, vomiting, and sometimes fever.  Illness may range from mild to life threatening.

In some cases (~5-10%), people diagnosed with STEC may develop a complication known as hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) which may lead to kidney failure, permanent damage or death.  Very young children and the elderly are more likely to develop severe illness.

How is STEC spread?
Illness from STEC could be from eating food that has been contaminated, consuming unpasteurized milk or products made with unpasteurized milk, drinking contaminated water, swallowing lake water or other untreated water , contact with livestock (especially if you have contact with livestock poop) including petting zoos, or contact with feces of people infected with STEC.

When to call your healthcare provider
Contact your healthcare provider if you have diarrhea that has lasted for over 3 days,or if you have a high fever, have blood in your stool, or if you are becoming dehydrated from having diarrhea and/or vomiting.

How is STEC diagnosed?
STEC can be diagnosed by testing your stool in a laboratory. 

How is STEC infection treated?
Keeping hydrated is important if you have STEC.  Antibiotics usually are not prescribed for this infection; check with your provider to see what is recommended.  Antidiarrheal agents (such as Immodium) should not be used to treat STEC without consulting your health care provider, since they may make the illness worse.

Wash Your Hands
How do I avoid STEC infection?

  • After using the restroom or changing diapers
  • Before preparing food
  • After contact with animals or their environments

Cook meats thoroughly; use a thermometer to check if the food has been cooked to a high enough temperature.  Handle raw meats carefully so that the juice does not contaminate other surfaces or foods; wash hands, counters, cutting boards and utensils after they touch raw meat.

Avoid raw milk and unpasteurized dairy products and unpasteurized juices

Avoid swallowing water when swimming

Is there anything special I need to know?
For STEC cases that attend childcare or for those that work in healthcare, childcare, or food service, your local health department can give you advice on when it is safe for you to return to work or for your child to return to a childcare center. 

Good handwashing is important during the time when you have symptoms, as well as in the week following your illness

Why does public health investigate STEC cases?
Public Health may contact you to see if it is possible to identify the source for your illness and to give you information on how to not spread the infection to others.  They will ask you about possible exposures like travel history, foods eaten, animal and water exposure. All information collected during the interviews is confidential.