Health officials have reported that five have been sickened and one died of apparent symptoms of foodborne shiga toxin. It is likely E. coli O157:H7 – a shiga toxin producing E. coli.
Shiga toxin is one of the most potent toxins known to man, so much so that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists it as a potential bioterrorist agent (CDC, n.d.). It seems likely that DNA from Shiga toxin-producing Shigella bacteria was transferred by a bacteriophage (a virus that infects bacteria) to otherwise harmless E. coli bacteria, thereby providing them with the genetic material to produce Shiga toxin.
Although E. coli O157:H7 is responsible for the majority of human illnesses attributed to E. coli, there are additional Stx-producing E. coli (e.g., E. coli O121:H19) that can also cause hemorrhagic colitis and post-diarrheal hemolytic uremic syndrome (D+HUS). HUS is a syndrome that is defined by the trilogy of hemolytic anemia (destruction of red blood cells), thrombocytopenia (low platelet count), and acute kidney failure.
It is likely that the death is caused by post-diarrheal Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (D+HUS). HUS is a severe, life-threatening complication that occurs in about 10% of those infected with E. coli O157:H7 or other Shiga toxin (Stx) producing E. coli. D+HUS was first described in 1955, but was not known to be secondary to E. coli infections until 1982. It is now recognized as the most common cause of acute kidney failure in infants and young children. Adolescents and adults are also susceptible, as are the elderly who often succumb to the disease.