HUS is a serious disease that affects the kidneys and the body's ability to clot the blood. In severe cases, the red blood cells are destroyed, resulting in anemia and kidney failure. About 2%-7% of infections by the bacteria E. coli O157:H7 lead to HUS. In 2010, there were 5 cases reported in New York City residents.
It is a rare disease, and it affects children more often than adults. In the United States, HUS is the principal cause of acute kidney failure in children. Most cases occur in the warmer months between April and October.
Most cases of HUS are caused by infection with the bacteria E. coli O157:H7. E. coli O157:H7 infections occur after eating contaminated food, such as undercooked meat or dairy products; or through contact with a person who has infectious diarrhea. One in ten children who have E. coli O157:H7 infection will go on to develop HUS. The bacterium (germ) releases a toxin that affects blood flow to the kidney and other vital organs including the brain, pancreas and liver, leading to impaired organ function. This can cause the sudden development of kidney failure, diabetes, hepatitis, and even heart failure.
Five to ten days after exposure to E. coli O157:H7, some persons experience gastro-intestinal illness. Most commonly, the symptoms include diarrhea (with or without blood), fever, nausea, or vomiting. In some cases irritability, fatigue, extreme paleness, and a decrease in urine production may occur. Neurological symptoms (including drowsiness, unconsciousness, seizures, blindness, and coma) can be present when the disease starts, or develop during the course of illness.
If a doctor suspects HUS based on a patient's symptoms, he/she will request several lab tests to check kidney function, blood clotting factors, blood counts, and urine analysis.
There is no specific treatment for HUS in children; however dialysis is often required. Most children (90%) with HUS recover from the acute illness with no permanent damage to their kidneys if treated properly and on time. The following medical management of complications is recommended:
The following measures should be taken to prevent infection by E. coli O157:H7 bacteria:
Cook meat thoroughly.
Avoid unpasteurized foods and beverages.
Keep raw meats and their juices away from other foods.
Wash your hands often.
Stay home when sick.
Last Updated March 2012