More information about EHEC infections and their implications

The bacterium E. coli is part of the intestinal flora of humans and animals. Here, it performs important tasks, such as, for example, breaking down nutrients or defending against pathogens. However, there are also variants of the bacterium with pathogenic properties, so-called enterohaemorrhagic E. coli strains, or EHEC. These are distinguished by the production of cell toxins, which are also called shigatoxins due to the similarity with those of Shigella.

It is transmitted to humans primarily through consumption of contaminated foods, such as raw or undercooked ground meat products and raw milk. Person-to-person contact is an important mode of transmission through the oral-faecal route. This is facilitated by its high infectiousness, because only 10-100 pathogens are enough to cause an infection in humans. After an incubation time of 1-8 days, an infection with EHEC is generally accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. but in a small proportion of patients (particularly young children and the elderly), the infection may lead to a life-threatening disease, such as haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS). HUS is characterized by acute renal failure, haemolytic anaemia and thrombocytopenia.

Treatment of an EHEC infection can be done purely symptomatically, since antibacterial treatment is contraindicated. Bacterial elimination is thus prolonged and additional toxin formation takes place. Early diagnosis is thus indispensable, not only to alleviate the course of the illness but also to avoid disease outbreaks, especially in shared facilities.

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