Thursday, June 9, 2011

Enterohaemorrhagic E. coli, or EHEC - 'A Totally New Disease Pattern'

From Spiegel via Will at The Other News:

Doctors Shaken By Outbreak's Neurological Devastation.

The patient at the Hamburg-Eilbek Hospital describes to doctors how she first had diarrhea, and then grew progressively weaker to the point where she could no longer eat and barely make it to the toilet. When blood appeared in her stool, she became terrified.

The young woman at the hospital's intensive-care unit in the northern German port city suspects that lettuce was responsible for putting her in this deadly situation. She then breaks out in tears, completely distraught.

Thanks to several dialysis procedures, she will most likely survive her case of hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS), a particularly aggressive complication related to the enterohaemorrhagic E. coli, or EHEC, that has appeared in more than one-quarter of the patients infected by the bacteria. 
So far, around 2,800 people have been infected in the dramatic outbreak of this rare strain of E. Coli, with at least 722 contracting HUS and 29 dead so far in Germany and elsewhere in Europe. The number of new cases has diminished this week, but the outbreak has left doctors pondering serious questions about the new epidemic. 
Rolf Stahl, a nephrologist at Hamburg's University Clinic Hamburg-Eppendorf, explains that, "Neurologists are being confronted with a totally new disease pattern." Never before has an EHEC germ been as aggressive -- and many consider this to be a new epidemic. 
And although the majority will survive, some patients will have lasting and serious health problems. "A considerable number of the patients will permanently lose their kidney function and will be dependent on dialysis for the rest of their lives," says Stahl. 
Although the number of infections is slowing, no single treatment has been found that can be effective for the majority of patients. And that leaves people asking what will hapen the next time this super strain of E. coli infects a large number of people. 
Indeed, O104:H4 is giving the medical world a feeling of powerlessness it hasn't felt in a long time. Wertheimer compares it to the AIDS outbreak in the 1980s. "In the era of antibiotics, we suddenly had an infection that we couldn't treat. That was a shock." 
As in the AIDS epidemic, microorganisms are recapturing terrain once again, and doing so in a perfidious manner. The EHEC bacteria produce even more of their toxin when they die off. If antibiotics were used against the bacteria, the toxin would literally flood the body
And what of the appealing view of mankind triumphing over the infectious diseases of medieval times? A myth, says Wertheimer.
Read the full story here.