The Raw Truth of E. Coli
The E. coli-spinach crisis is certainly taking its toll on this country; everyday a new headline reintroduces us to the severity of the situation. But what is E. coli? And how does it affect people? Monica Davey of The New York Times offers this sobering report:
“What do you say when your child asks you, am I going to die?” asked Elaine Krause, who has spent nearly all of this month beside her son’s bed at a hospital here, watching his skinny, lanky body do battle with E. coli. “I told him, ‘These people are trying to help you, and you are getting good care.’ But the truth is, I couldn’t answer him directly. We didn’t know.”Given the potential seriousness of the bacteria, parents like Krause are scratching their heads over what to feed their children:
By this weekend, a national outbreak of E. coli linked to fresh spinach grown in California had sickened 170 people in 25 states and killed at least one here in Wisconsin, where more people have grown ill than in any other state. The authorities in Idaho and Maryland were investigating the deaths of two others, including a toddler whose parents said they gave him a fruit smoothie with spinach days earlier, trying to determine whether their deaths, too, were linked to the outbreak.
“Here you think you’re feeding your child a great, healthy meal,” Dennis Krause said sadly. “But here I was, poisoning him.”
Not all E. coli is harmful to humans, but certain strains produce toxins that kill cells in the gut and in the blood vessels, leading to abdominal cramps and watery to bloody diarrhea, said Dr. John Flaherty, associate chief of the division of infectious disease at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University.
One area where the toxins can wreak particular havoc is in the kidneys; when it happens, Dr. Flaherty said, the inflamed cells lining the blood vessels get “roughed up,” causing red blood cells to break open as they pass by and jam blood flow to the kidneys.
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