E. coli Infection Facts (cont.)

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The most serious complication of infection with E. coli 0157:H7 is the hemolytic syndrome (HUS). Children under 5 years of age and the elderly are particularly susceptible to this potentially fatal condition characterized by the destruction of red blood cells and kidney failure. Hemolytic syndrome occurs in 5%-10% of people diagnosed with E. coli 0157:H7 infection. HUS is the most common cause of kidney failure in children in the U.S. and must be treated in a hospital setting. The 2011 European outbreak of E. coli STEC 0104 is also associated with this potentially fatal and serious complication.

The CDC estimates that the 0157:H7 strain is responsible for an average of 70,000 cases of infection a year in the U.S., and in total, an estimated 265,000 STEC infections occur each year in the United States. Other disease-causing strains of E. coli that have been found in the U.S. are 026:H11 and 0111:H8.

Shiga toxin-producing E. coli diagnosis

The diagnosis of E. coli infection is done by testing the stool for the presence of the bacteria.

Shiga toxin-producing E. coli infection treatment

Most infected people recover without specific treatment in five to seven days. Antibiotics have not been shown to improve the course of the disease, and experts advise against taking antidiarrheal medications such as loperamide (Imodium).

Shiga toxin-producing E. coli prevention

People can help prevent the spread of E. coli infection and reduce contamination of foods by:

  • thoroughly cooking ground beef,
  • avoiding unpasteurized milk and juices, and
  • practicing proper hygiene, including adequate hand washing.

REFERENCE: CDC.gov. Escherichia coli O157:H7 and other Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC).

Previous contributing editor: Barbara K. Hecht, PhD

Last Editorial Review: 11/15/2013