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E. Coli Infection From Food or Water: Blood and Kidney Problems - Topic Overview

Severe problems affecting the blood and kidneys may develop in a small number of people (5% to 10%) infected with E. coli O157:H7 who get sick enough to go to the hospital.1 These problems include anemia, a low number of platelets in the blood, the formation of small blood clots, and kidney (renal) failure.

Sometimes brain and spinal cord (central nervous system) complications also develop. Serious long-term damage to the kidneys and nervous system, as well as death, can occur.

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Understanding Food Poisoning -- Prevention

Here are some tips to prevent food poisoning: Always wash hands before preparing any food; wash utensils with hot soapy water after using them to prepare any meat or fish. Don't thaw frozen meat at room temperature. Let meat thaw gradually in a refrigerator, or thaw it quickly in a microwave oven and cook immediately. Avoid uncooked marinated food and raw meat, fish, or eggs; cook all such food thoroughly. Check expiration dates on all foods. In restaurants, return any undercooked...

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This set of problems is known as either hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) or thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (TTP). These two conditions are now thought to be different forms of the same disease.

Symptoms

Symptoms of hemolytic uremic syndrome or thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura may include:

  • Pale skin (caused by anemia).
  • Weakness or fatigue (caused by anemia).
  • Passing only small amounts of urine.
  • Small dark patches or dots on the skin (purpura).
  • Nervous system problems. Examples include:
    • Irritability.
    • Tiredness or lack of energy.
    • Seizures.
    • Coma.
    • Inability to move one side of the body.
  • Long-term nervous system complications. Examples include:

People who have been diagnosed with E. coli infection should be monitored carefully for these problems. This is especially important for children and older adults. They should have blood and urine tests rather than waiting for symptoms to develop. Monitoring should begin as soon as the diagnosis is made and continue for 2 weeks after diarrhea starts.

Risk factors

The following factors may put you at higher-than-average risk of developing blood and kidney problems from E. coli infection:

  • Being treated with antibiotics
  • Being a very young child or an elderly adult
  • Being treated with antidiarrheal medicines
  • Having bloody diarrhea
  • Having a high white blood cell count
  • Having a high fever

    This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http:// cancer .gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: May 29, 2012
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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