Deadly Strain of Bacteria May Cause Sudden Illness in Children

New York, NY
January 20, 1999

Recent reports about outbreaks of illness in children, which were traced to bacteria found in undercooked hamburger, has many parents worried. The illness that occurred after children ate this meat, hemolytic uremic syndrome, or HUS, is caused by a deadly strain of E.coli bacteria, which are normally found in a harmless form in the human digestive tract. The harmful strain of bacteria produce a toxin that destroys blood vessels in vital organs, such as the kidneys, and it may lead to acute kidney failure in some cases.

The early symptoms of HUS include: bloody diarrhea, vomiting, fever and decreased urine output. Most of the children who develop HUS respond to treatment and make a complete recovery. They may need dialysis for a short time to clear toxins out of their blood. Only a small number go on to develop chronic kidney failure, requiring continued dialysis, and eventually, a kidney transplant. To prevent HUS, the National Kidney Foundation recommends that families take the following precautions:

  • Avoid eating undercooked foods.
  • Do not drink unpasteurized milk or eat unpasteurized cheese.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after preparing food.
  • Freeze meats after purchase, unless you plan to use them within 48 hours.
  • Defrost meats in the refrigerator or microwave, not on the kitchen counter.
  • Place meats on the lowest rack of the refrigerator to avoid juices spilling onto other foods.
  • Do not place raw and cooked meats on the same plate.
  • Wash all surfaces and utensils that have been in contact with the meat.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after changing diapers or using the bathroom.
  • Do not take anti-diarrheal medications or antibiotics for diarrhea unless under your doctor's care.

For more information and a free fact sheet about HUS, contact the National Kidney Foundation at (800) 622-9010.