What is hemolytic uremic syndrome?
Hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) is a condition that affects the blood and blood vessels. It results in the destruction of blood platelets (cells involved in clotting), a low red blood cell count (anemia) and kidney failure due to damage to the very small blood vessels of the kidneys. Other organs, such as the brain or heart, may also be affected by damage to very small blood vessels.
It is a rare condition that mainly affects children under the age of ten (10).
How does HUS start?
HUS from E. coli infections results when bacterial toxins cross from the intestines into the bloodstream and damage the very small blood vessels. The toxic E. coli may come from eating spoiled, undercooked or poorly processed food products, or from exposure to contaminated water.
What causes HUS?
Most cases of HUS occur after an infection in the digestive tract caused by the E. coli bacterium. This type of E. coli can be found in undercooked meat and is one of the causes of restaurant-related food poisoning outbreaks.
E. coli refers to a group of bacteria normally found in the intestines of healthy humans and animals.
The majority of HUS cases are caused by infection with certain strains of E. coli bacteria. Exposure to E. coli can occur when one:
• Eats contaminated meat or produce
• Swim in pools or lakes contaminated with feces
• Have close contact with an infected person.
What are the symptoms of hemolytic uremic syndrome?
Symptoms of E. coli gastroenteritis are:
• Diarrhea (usually bloody)
• Stomach pain
How is HUS treated?
HUS is generally treated with medical care in the hospital.
1. Close attention to fluid volume is very important. This potentially includes intravenous (IV) fluids and nutritional supplementation by IV or tube feeding.
2. A transfusion of blood may also be needed.
3. In about 50 percent of cases, short-term kidney replacement treatment in the form of dialysis is necessary. Most patients who need dialysis will recover kidney function and ultimately be able to discontinue dialysis treatment.
4. At times a special form of treatment called plasmapheresis may also be necessary.
How Can You Prevent Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome?
Although you cannot avoid these bacteria entirely, you can reduce your risk of infection by:
• washing your hands regularly
• thoroughly washing utensils
• keeping food preparation surfaces clean
• keeping raw food separate from ready-to-eat food
• defrosting meat in the refrigerator instead of on the counter
• not leaving meat at room temperature (this can cause bacterial growth).
• cooking meat to 160 degrees Fahrenheit to kill harmful bacteria
• washing fruits and vegetables thoroughly
• not swimming in contaminated water
• avoiding ingestion of unpasteurized juice or milk
1. April k, March 2016. Hemolytic uremic syndrome. Available at https://healthline.com
2. Mayo Clinic. Hemolytic uremic syndrome. Available at https://mayoclinic.com
3. National kidney foundation. Hemolytic uremic syndrome. Available at https://www.kidney.org
4. John Hopkins. Hemolytic uremic syndrome. Available at https://hopkinsmedicine.org
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