E. coli 0157:H7 (Escherichia coli 0157:H7 infection)

  • Medical Author:
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

  • Medical Editor: Jay W. Marks, MD
    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD, is a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist. He graduated from Yale University School of Medicine and trained in internal medicine and gastroenterology at UCLA/Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

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What kind of doctor(s) treat E. coli 0157:H7 infections?

People who develop only acute symptoms that are mild usually do not require a physician because the illness resolves spontaneously. However, for some children, a pediatrician may be notified and/or may want to see the child. If a person develops severe symptoms, a team of doctors that may include a nephrologist (kidney specialist), a critical care specialist (pediatric or adult), a hematologist, a pulmonologist, cardiologist, and an infectious disease specialist or even a kidney transplant surgeon may be needed. Hospitalization also may be necessary.

How is an E. coli 0157:H7 infection diagnosed?

The diagnosis of E. coli 0157:H7 infection begins with an accurate history, physical exam, and an analysis of a sample of stool from the patient. A presumptive diagnosis is frequently made if the patient has symptoms of bloody diarrhea and a history of being exposed to persons, foods or liquids known to be a source of an E. coli 0157:H7 outbreak.

Because other disease-causing bacteria (for example, Shigella and Salmonella) can give patients similar initial symptoms, a definite diagnosis is based on culture of E. coli 0157:H7 from the patient's sample of stool on special culturing plates that then are tested with antiserum (antibodies) that react only with E. coli O157H7. Not all clinics or hospitals have the diagnostic antiserum, so the testing may take a few days.

Because of the high frequency of outbreaks of E. coli 0157:H7, the CDC in 2009 recommended that all patients being screened for community-acquired diarrheal infections have their stool samples analyzed with antisera for Shiga toxins, the toxins that are produced by E. coli 0157:H7 and a few other bacteria (for example, E. coli 0104:H4), in addition to having cultures of their stool. This approach may result in faster diagnosis of E. coli 0157:H7 infections. Urine samples can be tested, but E. coli 0157:H7 infrequently causes UTIs; its renal involvement is mainly due to toxins produced by the bacteria.

Blood tests such as a complete blood count (CBC), and blood levels of electrolytes, platelets, blood urea nitrogen (BUN), and creatinine (blood tests that measure function of the kidney) are performed periodically to look for the development of HUS or TTP.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/3/2015
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