(HealthDay News) -- Escherichia coli (E. coli) is a bacterium that's found in the environment, foods and intestines of people and animals.
Many strains are harmless, but some can make you very sick, causing diarrhea, urinary tract infection, respiratory illness and pneumonia, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.
Certain strains produce a toxin called Shiga, leading to some 265,000 illnesses, 3,600 hospitalizations and 30 deaths each year in the United States, the CDC says. Older adults, young children and people with compromised immune systems are most vulnerable to infection.
To help prevent E. coli infection, the CDC suggests:
- Washing your hands thoroughly after using the bathroom or changing diapers, and before preparing or eating food.
- Washing your hands after contact with animals or their waste.
- Using a thermometer to ensure that food is cooked to the proper temperature.
- Keeping clean any objects that enter young children's mouths.
- Avoiding unpasteurized dairy products and unpasteurized juice.
- Avoiding swallowing water from lakes, ponds, streams, swimming pools and backyard "kiddie" pools.