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E. coli O157:H7 is one of hundreds of strains of the bacterium Escherichia coli. Although most strains are harmless and live in the intestines of healthy humans and animals, this strain produces a powerful toxin and can cause severe illness.
One way E. coli can be contracted is when a person eats food that has been contaminated with animal waste or unsanitary water.
The main symptom is diarrhea, which is often bloody, accompanied by abdominal cramps. There also can be a mild fever.
In some persons, particularly children under five years of age and the elderly, the infection can also cause a complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome, in which the red blood cells are destroyed and the kidneys fail. About two to 7 percent of infections lead to this complication. In the United States, hemolytic uremic syndrome is the principal cause of acute kidney failure in children, and most cases of hemolytic uremic syndrome are caused by E. coli O157:H7.
If you have severe, prolonged or bloody diarrhea, you should seek medical attention.
Symptoms usually resolve within five to 10 days.

For more information, see the CDC E. coli page.