E. coli O157:H7 is one of hundreds of strains of the bacterium Escherichia coli.
It was first recognized as a pathogen in 1982, during an investigation into an outbreak of hemorrhagic colitis associated with consumption of hamburgers from a fast food chain restaurant. In the ten years that followed, there have been approximately thirty outbreaks recorded in the United States.
E.coli O157:H7, the most commonly toxic strain of the bacteia, is harmful because of its ability to produce Shiga-like toxins. The toxins can cause infected people to develop hemolytuc uremic syndrome, which can cause kidney failure and possibly death.
An estimated 73,480 illnesses due to E. coli O157:H7 infections occur each year in the United States, leading to an estimated 2,168 hospitalizations and sixty-one deaths annually. The most susceptible of all people are those who are very young, very old, or have compromised immune systems.
Antibiotics do not appear to aid in combating E. coli infections, and recent medical studies suggest that antibiotics have a risk of provoking more serious complications. There is no known therapy for HUS.