An Assistant Professor at Georgia University Shares Her Experience with Shiga Toxin-Producing E.coli
E.coli is dangerous, and Carla Schwan, an assistant professor at Georgia University, had an experience that proves it. At the age of twelve, young Carla came into contact with the Shiga toxin-producing E.coli bacteria through contaminated meat. Initially, Schwan and her loved ones thought she had a stomach ache. That is until her condition worsened severely and her physicians realized the extent of her illness – and that she had come into contact with the potentially deadly bacteria. She had developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, or HUS. Just days into her illness, Carla’s kidneys had begun to shut down, leading her to be put on heavy antibiotics and dialysis. She was able to recover without a kidney transplant, but permanent damage (including the body’s reaction to such a strong attack on the immune system) had already been done.
Luckily, the treatment saved her life, but her gastrointestinal tract was never the same. Years later, with this ordeal in the rearview mirror, Carla was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, very likely linked to her near-death experience during her childhood.
While Crohn’s can be a very challenging disease, thankfully, Carla is able to keep it treated and under control through regular infusions and a healthy diet.
Ironically enough, during her college experience, Carla’s interest turned towards the food sciences, and she wound up studying the very bacteria that very nearly killed her. Despite this being a somewhat scary prospect, Carla decided to use her childhood story in order to educate others about food safety, so as to help others prevent the same thing from happening to their loved ones. To do so meant understanding that, while most of the general public is not interested in the research or information about E.coli and food safety, her very human story always grabs the audience’s attention.
Carla’s story is proof enough that E.coli, and other bacteria and illnesses often obtained through contaminated food or drink can not only be annoying, but also life-threatening/altering as illnesses such as these can cause lifelong complications. E.coli, truly, is one of the more dangerous forms of food poisoning, but it is not the only one. And while the list is long, some of the more common ones include listeria, salmonella, and vibrio. Each of these have left thousands of people with stories, like Carla’s, to tell. It is these stories that remind us how incredibly important to utilize food safety practices at all times.
Shiga Toxin-Producing E.coli -Often Known as STEC
The Shiga toxin-producing E.coli, such as the one Carla came into contact with, is one that is most often seen in the news or in articles related to food poisoning outbreaks. Furthermore, like her, approximately 5-10% of people diagnosed with this type of bacteria develop a severe complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). HUS is a severe condition that can lead to kidney failure, and is most likely to occur in young children or adults. It also poses a greater risk to those with weakened immune systems, and to people who travel to certain foreign countries without taking the proper precautions. Symptoms of E.coli often include diarrhea (very often bloody), stomach cramping, and vomiting. A high fever can also be another symptom, although it is less common.
In order to aid in the prevention of becoming ill with a foodborne illness, one main basic precaution can be taken. Washing one’s hands during crucial times, such as after using the bathroom or while preparing food, is incredibly important. In fact recent research has come to the conclusion that personal hygiene, such as washing hands both before and after cooking a meal (and even during if the situation requires it) is perhaps the most important thing a person handling the food can do to prevent an outbreak. Countless numbers of illnesses have occurred because people who are cooking in the kitchen or who are preparing food in a restaurant fail to fulfill this basic task.
Although there are most definitely more ways to keep yourself (and your food) safe, beginning with washing one’s hands is a solid start.