We became more familiar with E. coli after the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) investigated an outbreak at the State Fair last month. Investigators identified 11 cases among Minnesota residents who visited the fair prior to becoming ill. Fairgoers ages 2 to 43-years-old were sickened with one patient hospitalized with serious complications from hemolytic uremic syndrome, which affects the kidneys. According to evidence, contact with livestock was a key factor. A commonality between all cases is that those infected reported visiting the Miracle of Birth exhibit and having contact with calves, goats, sheep or piglets. Some did not have direct contact with animals and may have been exposed through contact with contaminated surfaces like fence rails. 


E. coli

According to the MDH, symptoms of E. coli include stomach cramps and diarrhea, often with bloody stools and a low-grade fever. People typically become ill two to five days after exposure and most people recover in five to 10 days, MDH says. Those most at risk are children under 10, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems. 

Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria normally live in the intestines of healthy people and animals. Most varieties of E. coli are harmless or cause relatively brief diarrhea. But a few particularly nasty strains, such as E. coli O157:H7, can cause severe abdominal cramps, bloody diarrhea and vomiting. Potential sources of exposure include contaminated food or water and person-to-person contact.

Treatment for E. coli is often rest and hydration and, in some cases, antibiotics. Healthy people who are infected with E. coli will usually feel better in a week. E. coli O157 can be passed from person to person through fecal-oral transmission, especially among families with children still in diapers. It can be passed in the stool for weeks and sometimes even months after symptoms resolve.


Bowel obstruction

This is another serious condition that includes stomach-symptoms like vomiting, cramps, loss of appetite and constipation. 

The most common cause of bowel obstructions is adhesions, which is scarring in the abdomen, most commonly from a prior abdominal surgery.  Other causes include cancers of the intestines, hernias or inflammatory bowel disease.  

Treatment of a bowel obstruction is most commonly bowel rest, IV fluids and pain control.  

Most patients are hospitalized due to the need for IV fluids to maintain hydration as well as the need for pain medications.  


Other GI ailments

Nearly all of us have battled a GI disorder at some point in our lives. It generally starts with an upset stomach and progresses to nausea and vomiting. These sicknesses can also include diarrhea and a fever. Causes include: Viral Gastroenteritis (“Stomach Flu”)

Gastroenteritis symptoms may take several days to appear, though they normally don’t linger for more than a day or two. Exceptions may by those with rotavirus, whose symptoms can last up to nine days, and norovirus, which can last one to three days. 


Food poisoning 

Food poisoning is an illness which occurs when you’ve eaten food contaminated by an infectious organism, such as salmonella, listeria or E. coli. This can occur with undercooked or improperly handled food. Symptoms typically appear eight to 12 hours after eating and can last for one to two days. Food poisoning begins with abdominal cramping, and commonly causes vomiting and diarrhea. 



Constipation is a common condition in which a person does not pass stool as often as they need to. This can result in large, hard and painful to pass stools.  There are many causes of constipation such as diet and medications.

This is a very common discomfort that happens when you are inactive, consume too much dairy or not enough fiber or water. Over-the-counter stool softeners can help in the short-term with dietary and lifestyle changes in the long-term.


Dr. Carolyn McClain, Medical Director of The Urgency Room.

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