Study Links E. coli Infection and Antibiotics to Risk of a Kidney Disease in Children

New York, NY
July 15, 2000

Children who have diarrhea caused by a specific strain of E. coli bacteria are more likely to develop a type of kidney disease called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) if they are treated with antibiotics, according to new research reports. This strain of E.coli bacteria, identified as O157-H7, has been found in undercooked hamburger meat and was named the culprit in several outbreaks of HUS in children, says the National Kidney Foundation (NKF).

The research team, based at the University of Washington School of Medicine, studied 71 children under 10 years of age who had diarrhea caused by this bacteria. They found that the children who were treated with antibiotics were 17 times more likely to develop HUS than those who received no treatment. As a result of their investigation, they recommend against using antibiotics in children with diarrhea unless the results of a stool culture indicate that the infection is not caused by this strain of E.coli.

Researchers speculated that antibiotics might increase the risk of HUS by causing injured bacteria in the intestine to release a toxin that becomes more available for absorption into the child’s blood stream.

“Currently, the treatment for children with this infection is to administer fluids and electrolytes as needed,” says NKF spokesperson, Frederick J. Kaskel, MD, PhD. “There are some promising new studies are underway to develop treatments to prevent HUS in children with E. coli infections,” continues Dr. Kaskel, who is Director of Pediatric Nephrology at Montefiore Medical Center in New York.

E. coli is normally found in a harmless form in the human digestive tract. The deadly strain responsible for HUS produces a toxin that destroys blood vessels in vital organs, such as the kidneys.

Early symptoms of HUS may include bloody diarrhea, vomiting, fever and decreased urine output. Although most children who develop HUS recover completely, some may develop acute kidney failure and require dialysis for a short time. Only a small number of children go on to develop chronic kidney failure, which requires ongoing dialysis treatment or a kidney transplant.

You can prevent HUS by following these 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 meat after purchase, unless you plan to use it within 48 hours.
  • Defrost meat 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 raw 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 the care of a doctor.

For a free brochure about HUS, contact the National Kidney Foundation at (800) 622-9010. The Foundation is the largest voluntary health organization seeking the answers to the prevention and cure of kidney diseases.