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Escherichia coli (commonly called E. coli) is a family of
bacteria that is commonly found in the bowels of carnivorous
and omnivorous mammals, including humans. If an overgrowth
of E. coli occurs, the bacteria then multiply and in doing
so produce a toxin that causes illness to the host.
Illness from E. Coli is not particularly common, but when
there is an infection in one member of a family, often more
than one person is infected, and there is one particular
strain called e-coli 0157 that can be very dangerous to
immune-vulnerable people like small children, the elderly,
or people with HIV, cancer, or people who have had organ
transplants. The dehydration that often ensues from the
associated diarrhea is also a danger.
Because our cats are carnivorous mammals, they can infect us
or family members through contact with their feces. This is
especially true of cats that are allowed outdoors or cats
that catch and eat mice and birds. Symptoms of E. coli
usually involve fever, diarrhea and intestinal cramps and
last no more than a day or two. But in children under five,
a small number of E. coli infections end in kidney failure
and/or blood clotting disorders, and in immune-suppressed
individuals it can lead to death.
Cats are not by any means the primary cause of E. coli
infection in humans, that prize goes to contaminated water
or milk, undercooked meat, direct contact with cattle or
deer or their feces, or, as many have learned recently here
in the United States, from vegetables and greens that have
been contaminated before harvesting.
Happily, it is not that hard to prevent E. coli infection.
Washing with soap will remove most or all of the bacteria
from clothing, hands, and food stuff. Washing hands
thoroughly with soap and warm water after going to the
bathroom and before cooking or eating, washing vegetables
well and cooking them thoroughly, cooking meat thoroughly
before eating, keeping meat and meat juices away from other
foods in the kitchen, and arranging a hands-free method of
cleaning the cat's litter box will probably keep you and
your family safe from an E. coli infection.
Safely handling the litter box is essential in prevention.
Use a covered or self-cleaning litter box, especially if you
have small children or dogs in the household. Keep the
litter box very clean, removed waste daily, and dispose of
it in closed plastic bags in your outside trash can. Wear
gloves when you clean the litter box, and try not to touch
other items while you are wearing the gloves. Wash your hand
when you are finished. Be cautious about petting stray or
unfamiliar cats and dogs, and wash your hands when you come
back into your home if you have done so.
Follow the suggestions above and you will have a healthy and
happy relationship with your pet for a long time.
How to keep your Kitty Healthy and Well Pleased