Shiga Toxin-Producing E. coli Infection Facts
Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel, Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
Escherichia coli, or E. coli for short, is a very common bacterium. There are hundreds of different strains of E. coli. Some are harmless while others cause serious illness. Non-pathogenic strains of E. coli -- those that do not cause disease -- are normal inhabitants of the intestinal tract in humans and animals. But certain strains of E. coli can cause severe diarrhea and infect the genital and urinary tracts.
Examples of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli outbreaks
The most notorious type of pathogenic E. coli is known as E. coli 0157:H7. The name refers to the chemical compounds found on the surface of the bacterium. This strain was identified in 1982 following an outbreak of diarrhea resulting from the eating of undercooked beef. The 0157:H7 E coli strain belongs to a group of bacteria known as "Shiga toxin-producing" E. coli, or STEC for short. They have also been referred to as verocytotoxic E. coli (VTEC) or enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC). Outbreaks of E. coli 0157:H7-induced illness have been common in recent years. In 2011, a deadly outbreak began in Europe due to a rare strain of E coli, Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O104, or STEC O104, that produces a serious illness similar to that produced by E coli 0157:H7. At the time of the outbreak, which was centered in Germany and related to contaminated vegetables, the STEC 0104 strain had never been identified in the United States.