The hemorrhagic colitis caused by E. coli O157:H7 is characterized by severe abdominal cramps, diarrhea that typically turns bloody within 24 hours, and sometimes fever. The incubation period—that is, the time from exposure to the onset of symptoms—in outbreaks is usually reported as 3 to 4 days but may be as short as 1 day or as long as 10 days.
Inflammation caused by the toxins is believed to be the cause of hemorrhagic colitis, the first symptom of E. coli infection, which is characterized by the sudden onset of abdominal pain and severe cramps. Such symptoms are typically followed within 24 hours by diarrhea, sometimes fever.
As the infection progresses, diarrhea becomes watery and then may become grossly bloody; that is, bloody to the naked eye. E. coli symptoms also may include vomiting and fever, although fever is an uncommon symptom.
The duration of an uncomplicated illness can range from one to twelve days. In reported outbreaks, the rate of death is 0-2%, with rates running as high as 16-35% in outbreaks involving the elderly, like those that have occurred at nursing homes.
On rare occasions, E. coli infection can cause bowel necrosis (tissue death) and perforation without progressing to hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) — a complication of E. coli infection that is now recognized as the most common cause of acute kidney failure in infants and young children. In about 10 percent of E. coli cases, the Shiga toxin results in HUS.
HUS accounts for the majority of the acute deaths and chronic injuries caused by the bacteria. HUS occurs in 2-7% of victims, primarily children, with onset five to ten days after diarrhea begins. E. coli serotype O157:H7 infection has been recognized as the most common cause of HUS in the United States, with 6% of patients developing HUS within 2 to 14 days of onset of diarrhea. And it is the most common cause of renal failure in children.
Approximately half of the children who suffer HUS require dialysis, and at least 5% of those who survive have long term renal impairment. The same number suffers severe brain damage. While somewhat rare, serious injury to the pancreas, resulting in death or the development of diabetes, also occurs. There is no cure or effective treatment for HUS. And, tragically, children with HUS too often die, with a mortality rate of five to ten percent.
Suffering an E. coli O157:H7 infection has been linked to the development of post-infectious irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). This link was demonstrated by the Walkerton Health Study (WHS), which followed one of the largest O157:H7 outbreaks in the history of North America. In this outbreak, contaminated drinking water caused over 2,300 people to be infected, resulting in 27 recognized cases of HUS, and 7 deaths. The WHS followed 2,069 eligible study participants. Among its findings, WHS noted 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.
Marler Clark, The Food Safety Law Firm, is the nation’s leading law firm representing victims of E. coli outbreaks and hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). The E. coli lawyers of Marler Clark have represented thousands of victims of E. coli and other foodborne illness infections and have recovered over $800 million for clients. Marler Clark is the only law firm in the nation with a practice focused exclusively on foodborne illness litigation. Our E. coli lawyers have litigated E. coli and HUS cases stemming from outbreaks traced to ground beef, raw milk, lettuce, spinach, sprouts, and other food products. The law firm has brought E. coli lawsuits against such companies as Jack in the Box, Dole, ConAgra, Cargill, and Jimmy John’s. We have proudly represented such victims as Brianne Kiner, Stephanie Smith and Linda Rivera.
If you or a family member became ill with an E. coli infection or HUS after consuming food and you’re interested in pursuing a legal claim, contact the Marler Clark E. coli attorneys for a free case evaluation.