The New England Journal of Medicine has published the results of a study into the catastrophic E. coli 0104 outbreak linked to sprouts that occurred predominantly in Germany in the late spring and summer. Residents of other countries, including the US, were sickened in the outbreak, but in Germany alone, the outbreak sickened 3816, killed 54, and caused 845 hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) illnesses. The study published in NEJM focused on the German cases, finding that 22% of the German illnesses developed HUS, and 68% of HUS cases were adult women.
We describe an outbreak of gastroenteritis and the hemolytic–uremic syndrome caused by Shiga-toxin–producing Escherichia coli in Germany in May, June, and July, 2011. The consumption of sprouts was identified as the most likely vehicle of infection.
We analyzed data from reports in Germany of Shiga-toxin–producing E. coli gastroenteritis and the hemolytic–uremic syndrome and clinical information on patients presenting to Hamburg University Medical Center (HUMC). An outbreak case was defined as a reported case of the hemolytic–uremic syndrome or of gastroenteritis in a patient infected by Shiga-toxin–producing E. coli, serogroup O104 or serogroup unknown, with an onset of disease during the period from May 1 through July 4, 2011, in Germany.
A total of 3816 cases (including 54 deaths) were reported in Germany, 845 of which (22%) involved the hemolytic–uremic syndrome. The outbreak was centered in northern Germany and peaked around May 21 to 22. Most of the patients in whom the hemolytic–uremic syndrome developed were adults (88%; median age, 42 years), and women were overrepresented (68%). The estimated median incubation period was 8 days, with a median of 5 days from the onset of diarrhea to the development of the hemolytic–uremic syndrome. Among 59 patients prospectively followed at HUMC, the hemolytic–uremic syndrome developed in 12 (20%), with no significant differences according to sex or reported initial symptoms and signs. The outbreak strain was typed as an enteroaggregative Shiga-toxin–producing E. coli O104:H4, producing extended-spectrum beta-lactamase.
In this outbreak, caused by an unusual E. coli strain, cases of the hemolytic–uremic syndrome occurred predominantly in adults, with a preponderance of cases occurring in women. The hemolytic–uremic syndrome developed in more than 20% of the identified cases.