The Robert Koch Institute said more than 60 new cases of Hemolytic Uremic syndrome (HUS) had been reported in the past 24 hours, bringing the total number to 276. Over 600 have been sickened and there have been as many as five deaths. E. coli O104:H4 illnesses have also been reported in Britain, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands in people who recently visited Germany.
German authorities have identified organic cucumbers from Spain as a source of the E. coli O104:H4. However, Spanish authorities are disputing that the contamination occurred in Spain. Interestingly, German officials continue to advise consumers not to eat raw cucumbers from Spain or tomatoes and lettuces from northern Germany.
Hemolytic uremic syndrome is a severe, life-threatening complication of an E. coli bacterial infection that was first described in 1955, and is now recognized as the most common cause of acute kidney failure in childhood. E. coli O157:H7 is responsible for over 90% of the cases of HUS that develop in North America. In fact, some researchers now believe that E. coli O157:H7 is the only cause of HUS in children. HUS develops when the toxin from E. coli bacteria, known as Shiga-like toxin (SLT), enters cells lining the large intestine. The Shiga-toxin triggers a complex cascade of changes in the blood. Cellular debris accumulates within the body’s tiny blood vessels and there is a disruption of the inherent clot-breaking mechanisms. The formation of micro-clots in the blood vessel-rich kidneys leads to impaired kidney function and can cause damage to other major organs.