Enterovirulent E. coli (EEC)

  • 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 are the complications associated with enterovirulent E. coli (EEC)?

All of the EEC groups may have complications associated with infection. However, some groups have far fewer and potentially less serious complications than other groups. All of the groups, however, have one potentially serious complication; dehydration. If left untreated, dehydration can lead to multiple organ damage and death. Severe dehydration happens infrequently in developed countries, but in third world countries, the death rate can reach 50% in children (ETEC). In general, in developed countries, ETEC, EAEC and EAggEC group infections have few complications develop.

A relatively frequent complication of EHEC, EPEC and EIEC is blood in the stool. Some individuals will have only a small amount of blood but others may have large amounts and may require a blood transfusion (severe hemorrhagic diarrhea).

However, about 10% of all persons infected with EHEC (usually E. coli 0157:H7) develop some complication. Occasionally, the complication(s) may lead to disability or death. EHEC strains (and sometimes, EIEC group organisms) may produce the serious problems listed below;

  • Hemorrhagic (bloody) diarrhea: This complication can prolong the disease by about a week, and cause severe abdominal pain. The individual may also develop dehydration, anemia and may need a blood transfusion.
  • Hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS): This condition also prolongs the disease as it usually becomes apparent about 7 to 10 days after the onset of symptoms. Children under 10 years of age are the most likely to get this complication; HUS is the most common cause of kidney failure in children. The toxin produced by EHEC bacteria (mainly E. coli 0157:H7) enters the blood, causing blood cells to be damaged and small clots to form. The toxin can also lodge in the kidneys and eventually destroy kidney tissue; sometimes the damage is severe enough to cause kidney failure.
  • Thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (TTP): This complication is a variation of HUS that usually occurs in the elderly. The same mechanisms as those for HUS are responsible for TTP. However, the elderly develop more clotting problems and use up more platelets resulting in easy or "spontaneous" bruising over the body. The elderly experience more fever and neurologic changes, in addition to kidney damage. Until the 1980's, TTP was considered a fatal disease. However, treatment with plasma exchange and infusion techniques has reduced the mortality rate (deaths) of TTP to about 10%.
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