e. coliE. coli is a commonly known bacterium that usually cause no harm. However, one strain of E. coli, labeled O157:H7 can be picked up from contaminated food and beverages, or through contact with manure from farm animals – and creates a toxin that can shut down kidneys and lead to death.
E. coli O157:H7 creates different reactions in different people. Some hardly get sick, or only struggle with a few days of diarrhea and vomiting. In others, however, people fall extremely ill, and in some cases, die. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that over 70,000 Americans get infected with E. coli annually, and about 60 people a year fall sick from the bacterial infection.
In rare cases, especially amongst children and the elderly, the bacteria can also trigger hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a dangerous kidney complication. The symptoms starts much like those of regular E. coli infections – diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramping and vomiting. The problem is that unlike standard infections, even though these symptoms may pass in a few days, the infection is far from being over – the bacteria in HUS leaves behind toxins in the bloodstream of the infected person.
The toxin causes microscopic clots that often lodge inside the tiny vessels that feed the kidneys. Any red blood cells flowing through gets caught on these clots, and the kidneys start to lose function. Eventually, the patient loses kidney function.
There is no specific treatment for HUS – doctors can only relieve the effects with dialysis, IV fluids, and blood transfusions. Unfortunately, 10 to 30 percent of patients will suffer some sort of permanent kidney damage as a result, and some may need ongoing dialysis. Worst case scenarios result in eventual kidney transplants or death.