Dec 09, 2008
E. coli and Pregnancy
This sheet talks about the risks that exposure to E. coli can have during pregnancy. With each pregnancy, all
women have a 3% to 5% chance of having a baby with a birth defect. This information should not take the place
of medical care and advice from your health care provider.
What is E. coli?
E. coli (Escherichia coli) is a bacteria that lives in your colon (gut) and vagina. There
are many different types of E. coli bacteria and most are harmless to humans, but some can
cause severe illness. Some ways people can get infected with E. coli are:
• Eating contaminated raw and unwashed fruits and vegetables
• Drinking unpasteurized milk and fruit juices
• Eating raw or undercooked meat
• Drinking or swimming in infected water
• Coming into contact with feces from infected farm or petting zoo animals
What are the symptoms of E. coli infection?
Most people will have stomach cramps, slight fever, and diarrhea, but many people have no symptoms. In severe cases, there can be bloody diarrhea, which requires immediate medical care. Rarely people with E. coli infection can develop a form of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome. This condition is a serious health concern and can lead to kidney damage and death.
How is E. coli infection diagnosed and treated?
If you have symptoms of E. coli infection, a doctor will test a sample of your bowel movement (feces). Most healthy people recover in a couple of days without the need for antibiotics or over-the-counter medications that stop diarrhea.
Does E. coli infection cause birth defects or pregnancy complications?
There are no reports of E. coli infection causing birth defects in humans. Because diarrhea causes the body to lose a lot of fluids, pregnant women with an E. coli infection can easily become dehydrated. In rare cases, they may start to bleed heavily. There may be a risk for miscarriage or premature delivery with severe E. coli infection. If you think you have an E. coli infection, you should see a doctor right away so that you can be diagnosed and treated if necessary.
If I have an E. coli infection, can I pass it to my unborn baby?
Some types of E. coli that are normally present in the vagina can cause a baby to become infected during delivery. It is not known if E. coli from contaminated food or water can cross the placenta or infect a baby during delivery.
How can I prevent getting an E. coli infection?
• Always wash your hands with soap and water after using or cleaning the bathroom, changing diapers, handling dirty towels or linens, and touching farm animals.
• Always wash your hands after handling raw meat and clean any surface touching raw meat with a disinfectant or bleach and water solution.
• Cook meat thoroughly, especially ground beef, to 160°F, or until the juices run clear (no pink).
• Wash all vegetables and fruits before eating.
• Drink only milk and juice that has been pasteurized.
I have an E. coli infection. Can I breastfeed my baby?
Yes. The E. coli bacteria do not get into the breast milk, so it is okay to continue breastfeeding. There are important immune factors in breast milk that can help protect your baby from infections. Having diarrhea and
other symptoms of E. coli infection may cause a decrease in your milk supply, so drink plenty of fluids. Make sure that you wash your hands before you hold or breastfeed your baby. If your baby gets diarrhea or other symptoms of
E. coli infection, contact your pediatrician immediately.
This fact sheet is from www.OTISpregnancy.org.