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The Journal of Infectious Diseases 2005; 192:1422–9


Background. Shiga toxin–producing Escherichia coli (STEC) O157:H7 is a well-recognized cause of bloody diarrhea and hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS). Non-O157 STEC contribute to this burden of illness but have been underrecognized as a result of diagnostic limitations and inadequate surveillance.

Methods. Between 1983 and 2002, 43 state public health laboratories submitted 940 human non-O157 STEC isolates from persons with sporadic illnesses to the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention reference laboratory for confirmation and serotyping.

Results. The most common serogroups were O26 (22%), O111 (16%), O103 (12%), O121 (8%), O45 (7%), and O145 (5%). Non-O157 STEC infections were most frequent during the summer and among young persons (median age, 12 years; interquartile range, 3–37 years). Virulence gene profiles were as follows: 61% stx1 but not stx2; 22% stx2 but not stx1; 17% both stx1 and stx2; 84% intimin (eae); and 86% enterohemolysin (E-hly). stx2 was strongly associated with an increased risk of HUS, and eae was strongly associated with an increased risk of bloody diarrhea. STEC O111 accounted for most cases of HUS and was also the cause of 3 of 7 non-O157 STEC outbreaks reported in the United States.

Conclusions. Non-O157 STEC can cause severe illness that is comparable to the illness caused by STEC O157. Strains that produce Shiga toxin 2 are much more likely to cause HUS than are those that produce Shiga toxin 1 alone. Improving surveillance will more fully elucidate the incidence and pathological spectrum of these emerging agents. These efforts require increased clinical suspicion, improved clinical laboratory isolation, and continued serotyping of isolates in public health laboratories.

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