Saturday, July 30, 2011

Microbe Week: Escherichia coli.

OH NOES. This blog is covering one of the most notorious little buggers ever: E. COLI! 

This is just ONE kind of E.coli. It would make a neat lightbulb.

DIE, DIE, DIE, you stupid little microbes! This is what you get for ruining our spinach and punishing us for sloppy sanitation! CLEARLY, ALL E.COLI MUST BE PURGED!

Kidding, of course. E.coli, much like Salmonella, are mostly a problem because we don't cook our food well enough. For those of you who take raw meat and look at it under a microscope, E.coli are Gram-negative, rod-shaped (bacillus) bacteria. They are a very popular model bacterium, even if they make all petri dishes smell like an outhouse after a while. E.coli may be doing your math homework within the next few years. 

Escherichia coli and its cousin genus Salmonella are the two most talked-about bacteria on the planet. Again, if food poisoning makes the news, E.coli could well be the culprit. There are 39 strains of E. coli known to date, and all of them have one thing in common: They live in mammals.  Since I can see all that porn on your computer, you qualify.

All mammals have some strain of E.coli in them. Humans usually get E. coli as benign inhabitants of the large intestine within 40 hours of birth.They are normal gut flora in mammals, just like Salmonella is normal microflora in birds and reptiles. Issues occur when the wrong strain of E. coli gets in one's gut, leading to a very bad case of diarrhea indeed.

Like sprinkles, only alive and in your colon.

Infections with E.coli usually occur when meat or veggies have not been properly washed or cooked. The main carriers of E. coli are cows, which may show no symptoms themselves. Anything raw is also at risk, especially if wild pigs have been running around. Watering with sewage is never a good sign. In short, crap reaches mouth - that is never a good thing in humans.

Symptoms of E.coli infection vary with the strain. In general, these are colon bacteria - expect a high fever, horrible diarrhea (sometimes with blood), urinary problems, and other crotch-kicking issues. There is a particular strain of E.coli that causes meningitis in infants by cleverly disguising itself as an antibody. E.coli infection makes Salmonella poisoning look like a walk in the park.

You don't know where it's been. Oh, wait, yes you do, and it's filthy.

Did we mention that it's nigh-unstoppable? Escherichia coli develops antibiotic resistance staggeringly fast. Not only does it have our antibiotics to dodge, but it also has to protect itself from the antibiotics found in livestock. E.coli can also trade DNA with Staphylococcus aureus - the other superbug people are worried about. Even mixing agar substrates doesn't work on E.coli. T4 phage therapy is one of the best ways to stop E.coli, but how do you market "get infected with a virus to make up for our sloppy food system?"

So stop worrying about Salmonella. You've got other shit to deal with just for being a mammal.

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