Can You Get E. Coli From Changing Dirty Diapers?

by Sara Ipatenco

    E. coli is a type of bacteria that includes many different strains, most of which are harmless. Certain strains, however, can be quite dangerous. If you change diapers on a regular basis, you're at an increased risk for contracting one of these dangerous strains of E. coli. Knowing the facts will help keep you safe.

    E. Coli

    E. coli, short for Escherichia coli, is a type of bacteria that lives in the intestinal system of human beings, and it is a beneficial bacteria that helps keep the digestive system healthy. Several strains of the bacteria can cause mild diarrhea, too, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Other strains, such as O157:H7, are more harmful and can lead to dangerous symptoms, particularly in young children.

    Changing Dirty Diapers

    Though not common, E. coli can be passed from person to person. This occurs when one person comes into contact with fecal matter that contains the bacteria. You can contract E. coli if you change a dirty diaper that's contaminated with the bacteria and then don't wash your hands before touching your face. You can also spread the bacteria to surfaces, such as door knobs and table tops, if you touch them before washing your hands after changing a dirty diaper. If you touch those surfaces later, the bacteria can enter your body and make you sick.

    Symptoms

    If you do come into contact with E. coli bacteria, it'll likely make you sick within three or four days, according to the Mayo Clinic website, though some people get sick within a day and other people don't get sick until a week later. The most common symptoms of E. coli include diarrhea, which can be mild or can be severe and bloody, abdominal cramping, stomach pain, nausea and vomiting. If you develop any of these symptoms, seek medical attention immediately. Because these symptoms are characteristic of several illnesses, always check with your doctor and don't assume that it's definitely E. coli.

    Additional Considerations

    You can prevent E. coli contamination by wearing gloves when you change diapers, if feasible, and by washing your hands with warm soap and water immediately after changing diapers. There isn't a treatment for E. coli, according to the Mayo Clinic website, so your doctor will most likely recommend rest and plenty of fluids, which will reduce the risk of dehydration. If your infection is severe enough, you might need fluids intravenously to prevent dehydration, the MedlinePlus website reports. Don't take an anti-diarrhea medication because it will take longer for your body to get rid of the E. coli bacteria. If you suspect that you have been exposed to E. coli, consult with your doctor right away. It's rare, but an E. coli infection can cause damage to the red blood cells and the kidneys.

    About the Author

    Sara Ipatenco has taught writing, health and nutrition. She started writing in 2007 and has been published in Teaching Tolerance magazine. Ipatenco holds a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in education, both from the University of Denver.

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