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September 22, 2006

What is it? E. coli O157:H7 is one of hundreds of strains of the bacterium Escherichia coli. Most strains are harmless and live in the intestines of healthy humans and animals. E. coli O157:H7 produces a powerful toxin and can cause severe illness.

What it causes: Acute bloody diarrhea and abdominal cramps with little or no fever; usually lasts one week. In severe cases, it causes kidney failure. 73,000 cases of infection and 61 deaths occur in the United States annually.

How people get sick:Ground beef is a major source, also consumption of unpasteurized milk and juice, sprouts, lettuce and salami, and contact with cattle. Swimming in or drinking contaminated water can also cause illness and it is easily transmitted from person to person.

- Information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More information can be found on the Internet at www.cdc.gov.

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