Escherichia coli O104:H4

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Escherichia coli O104:H4 is a strain of Escherichia coli bacteria that caused a serious outbreak of foodborne illness in Germany in 2011. This strain is characterized by the presence of the O104:H4 serotype, which is not commonly seen in E. coli infections.

Overview[edit | edit source]

Escherichia coli (E. coli) is a type of bacteria that normally lives in the intestines of people and animals. Most E. coli are harmless and are an important part of a healthy human intestinal tract. However, some E. coli are pathogenic, meaning they can cause illness, either diarrhea or illness outside of the intestinal tract. The types of E. coli that can cause diarrhea can be transmitted through contaminated water or food, or through contact with animals or persons.

Escherichia coli O104:H4[edit | edit source]

Escherichia coli O104:H4 is a rare strain of E. coli that produces Shiga toxin, a potent toxin that can cause severe illness. This strain is part of the group of E. coli known as Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC), which also includes the more commonly known E. coli O157:H7.

The O104:H4 strain is characterized by the presence of the O104:H4 serotype. The "O" in the serotype refers to the bacterial cell wall's antigen, while the "H" refers to the flagellar antigen. The numbers following the letters represent specific antigens within these groups.

2011 Germany E. coli O104:H4 outbreak[edit | edit source]

In May 2011, an outbreak of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) infections occurred in Germany, caused by the O104:H4 strain. This was the deadliest E. coli outbreak in history, resulting in 53 deaths and over 4,000 illnesses.

The outbreak was traced back to contaminated sprouts from an organic farm in Lower Saxony, Germany. The sprouts were contaminated with the O104:H4 strain, which is particularly virulent and resistant to many antibiotics.

Prevention and treatment[edit | edit source]

Prevention of E. coli O104:H4 infections is similar to preventing other types of foodborne illnesses. This includes proper food handling and preparation, such as thoroughly cooking meats, washing fruits and vegetables, and avoiding cross-contamination in the kitchen.

Treatment for E. coli O104:H4 infections typically involves supportive care, including hydration and symptom management. Antibiotics are not typically used, as they can increase the risk of developing Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS), a serious complication of STEC infections.


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Contributors: Prab R. Tumpati, MD