Q&A: What is E. coli, and how do I avoid it?
My friend's baby was admitted to the hospital for a high fever, and the hospital found E.coli in the baby's urine test. What is the cause of this and how should parents prevent this from happening? Is E. coli viral or germs?
When a baby is evaluated for a fever and the reason isn’t obvious on a physical exam, the next step is to look for possible infection in “hidden” sources like blood, urine and sometimes spinal fluid.
When the reason for the fever isn’t viral, a urinary tract infection is a fairly common cause, and the most common bacteria found in the urine is E. coli. (It has a longer proper name but this is the nickname used in medicine.) It isn’t a virus, but a bacteria that is normally found in stool. When it does find its way into the usually sterile urinary tract, infection can proceed up into the bladder and, in serious cases, into the kidneys themselves. Though attention should always be paid to good hygiene in the diaper area, these infections aren’t necessarily the result of sloppy hygiene, so parents shouldn’t feel at fault.
In adults and older children, typical symptoms of pain and a sensation of having to urinate frequently make the diagnosis easier. In infants, irritability, fever, vomitting or poor appetite are the more subtle signs of a urinary tract infection.
Once an infection has been found, antibiotics are necesary to eliminate the E.coli, either in or out of the hospital. It is then routine to ‘look’ at the kidneys and urinary tract with ultrasound and certain X-rays to be sure there isn’t scarring and the urinary tract is otherwise normal. If it is normal, there is no reason to think the same infection will recur.