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Contagious Diseases of the Colon

By Catherine Schaffer ; Updated August 14, 2017

Contagious disease of the colon typically causes diarrhea and abdominal cramping. Most of these diseases resolve on their own and are not life-threatening. A few have serious consequences associated with them. Clostriudium difficile, Salmonella and E.coli cause serious infections of the colon.

Clostridium Difficile

Clostridium difficile, or C. diff', diarrhea is found in hospitalized patients who are receiving antibiotics. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Clostridium difficile diarrhea is spread via health care workers' contaminated hands. Strict hand-washing protocols have been implemented in many hospitals in an effort to prevent this infection. Diarrhea associated with this pathogen can be bloody, but the greater concern is that Clostridium can cause toxic megacolon. The inflamed colon rapidly dilates to a degree that becomes life-threatening. Treatment of C. diff diarrhea consists of stopping the offending antibiotics and implementing a course of metronidazole or vancomycin for treatment. In many cases the diarrhea will stop on its own when the antibiotics are discontinued.


According to the CDC, Salmonella is a bacterium that causes infection of the colon and is transmitted by eating contaminated food. There are 1.4 million cases of salmonellosis and 500 related deaths per year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture website. Salmonella was discovered over 100 years ago by Dr. Daniel E. Salmon. This bacterium lives in the intestinal tract of infected patients. Symptoms of salmonellosis are abdominal cramping, fever, diarrhea, chills, headache, nausea and vomiting. These symptoms are usually self-limiting and disappear in four to seven days. Rarely, patients develop Reiters Syndrome, which is a salmonella infection that causes pain in the joints, eye irritation and painful urination.

Escherichia Coli

Escherichia coli, or E. coli, is a type of bacteria that normally lives in the colon. But when people eat food contaminated with E. coli, it can cause bloody diarrhea. Eating raw vegetables or drinking contaminated water in foreign countries may cause E. coli infection, commonly known as traveler’s diarrhea. This infection is usually self-limiting and resolves in a couple of days. A more virulent strain of E.coli, known as E.coli O157:H7, can cause severe bloody diarrhea and abdominal cramping, followed by potential kidney failure. The very young and the elderly are at greatest risk when infected with this organism.

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