Public health review of the enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli outbreak in Germany




Enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC) is a human pathogenic E. coli bacterium that is able to cause haemorrhagic colitis (bloody diarrhoea), which sometimes develops into haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS). HUS is a life-threatening disease that causes kidney damage and is a severe complication of EHEC infection. EHEC belongs to the so-called Shigatoxin-producing E. coli (STEC), also known as verocytotoxin-producing E. coli (VTEC). Animals can carry other types of STEC/VTEC in their intestines that are not necessarily pathogenic for humans.

Every year there are EHEC outbreaks in different parts of the world including Europe, sometimes involving HUS and even deaths, but the number of affected people is normally very much lower than what Germany is now experiencing. In 1996, the world’s biggest recorded outbreak was registered in Japan and included over 8 000 reported cases.