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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

E. coli O157:H7 Mediated Post-Infectious Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

I am on a plane (Wi-Fi) heading to Washington D.C. for the Salmonella Egg Hearing via Wichita for an E. coli O157:H7 Mediation. If the mediation is short (that can be good or bad), I’ll make it to D.C., if not, I hear Wichita is nice in September.

escherichia_coli.jpgThe mediation involves a young woman who was part of a nation-wide E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in 2009. She was hospitalized for days, incurring nearly $35,000 in medical expenses. Although she did not develop Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome, she has been left with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). For anyone this can be a devastating result, for a teenage girl even more so.

A recently-published study surveyed the extant scientific literature and noted that post-infectious irritable bowel syndrome (PI-IBS) is a common clinical phenomenon first-described over five decades ago. The Walkerton Health Study further notes that:

Between 5% and 30% of patients who suffer an acute episode of infectious gastroenteritis develop chronic gastrointestinal symptoms despite clearance of the inciting pathogens.

In terms of its own data, the “study confirm[ed] a strong and significant relationship between acute enteric infection and subsequent IBS symptoms.” The WHS also identified risk-factors for subsequent IBS, including: younger age; female sex; and four features of the acute enteric illness—diarrhea for >7 days, presence of blood in stools, abdominal cramps, and weight loss of at least ten pounds.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic disorder characterized by alternating bouts of constipation and diarrhea, both of which are generally accompanied by abdominal cramping and pain. In one recent study, over one-third of IBS sufferers had had IBS for more than ten years, with their symptoms remaining fairly constant over time. IBS sufferers typically experienced symptoms for an average of 8.1 days per month.

As would be expected from a chronic disorder with symptoms of such persistence, IBS sufferers required more time off work, spent more days in bed, and more often cut down on usual activities, when compared with non-IBS sufferers. And even when able to work, a significant majority (67%), felt less productive at work because of their symptoms. IBS symptoms also have a significantly deleterious impact on social well-being and daily social activities, such as undertaking a long drive, going to a restaurant, or taking a vacation. Finally, although a patient’s psychological state may influence the way in which he or she copes with illness and responds to treatment, there is no evidence that supports the theory that psychological disturbances in fact cause IBS or its symptoms.

References:

J. Marshall, et al., Incidence and Epidemiology of Irritable Bowel Syndrome After a Large Waterborne Outbreak of Bacterial Dysentery, Gastro., 2006; 131;445-50 (hereinafter “Walkerton Health Study” or “WHS”). The WHS followed one of the largest E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks in the history of North America. Contaminated drinking water caused over 2,300 people to be infected with E. coli O157:H7, resulting in 27 recognized cases of HUS, and 7 deaths. Id. at 445. The WHS followed 2,069 eligible study participants. Id.

A.P.S. Hungin, et al., Irritable Bowel Syndrome in the United States: Prevalence, Symptom Patterns and Impact, Aliment Pharmacol. Ther. 2005:21 (11); 1365-75.

Amy Foxx-Orenstein, DO, FACG, FACP, IBS—Review and What’s New, General Medicine 2006:8(3) (Medscape 2006) (collecting and citing studies). Indeed, PI-IBS has been found to be characterized by more diarrhea but less psychiatric illness with regard to its pathogenesis. See Nicholas J. Talley, MD, PhD, Irritable Bowel Syndrome: From Epidemiology to Treatment, from American College of Gastroenterology 68th Annual Scientific Meeting and Postgraduate Course (Medscape 2003).