You've Got What? Shiga toxin producing Escherichia coli (STEC) and haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS)
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Escherichia coli (E. coli) is a bacterium commonly found in the faeces of people and many animals. Most E. coli found in the gut are harmless but some may produce toxins such as Shiga toxin, which can cause disease. STEC infection may cause no symptoms or diarrhoea or, rarely, the Hemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS)/thrombotic thrombocytopaenic purpura (TTP) spectrum.
STEC, HUS and thrombotic thrombocytopaenic purpura (TTP) are notifiable conditions1
Usually E. coli that carry Shiga toxin genes cause isolated infections, but occasionally outbreaks occur. The common sources of Shiga toxin producing Escherichia coli (STEC) infections include:
Infection with STEC may produce no symptoms, or people may have:
Often there is little or no fever or vomiting.
A small percentage of patients with STEC may develop the Hemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS)/thrombotic thrombocytopaenic purpura (TTP) spectrum in which there is damage to various body parts such as the kidney and brain. Children and the elderly are more susceptible. Other medical conditions besides STEC infection can also cause HUS and TTP.
Diagnosis is made by growing the bacteria in a faecal sample, or by detecting E. coli in a faecal specimen using a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test in a pathology laboratory.
Blood tests may provide additional clues to the diagnosis.
(time between becoming infected and developing symptoms)
Usually ranges from 3 to 8 days but may be longer.
(time during which an infected person can infect others)
3 to 4 days, usually with a range from 2 to 10 days.
Treatment for complications such as dehydration and kidney failure may require hospitalisation, sometimes in intensive care. In most cases antibiotics should not be used.
1 – In South Australia the law requires doctors and laboratories to report some infections or diseases to SA Health. These infections or diseases are commonly referred to as 'notifiable conditions'.