Hemolytic uremic syndrome, or HUS, is one of the most serious complications of any foodborne illness infection. It is caused by misshapen red blood cells that are created when Shiga toxins produced by E. coli bacteria travel through the bloodstream to the kidneys.
The destroyed blood cells clog the glomeruli, which are tiny tubes in the kidneys. The kidneys can shut down, and some patients experience kidney failure.
One of the worst things about this complication is that most patients are children under the age of 5, who have no choice in what they are given to eat or drink.
Symptoms of HUS include little to no urine output (oligoanuria), lethargy, pale skin, a skin rash, and bleeding from the nose or mouth. If someone is experiencing these symptoms, it’s critical that they are taken to a doctor immediately. Many of these patients are hospitalized for palliative and supportive care.
Hemolytic uremic syndrome is often diagnosed by these symptoms and the timing of symptoms. An E. coli infection usually starts three to four days after exposure to the pathogen. HUS symptoms usually begin about four days after E. coli infection symptom onset.