Long-Term Effects From E Coli Poisoning
An episode of moderate to severe E. coli poisoning can leave its victims with increased risk for serious health problems. That’s the message from a new study published in the British Medical Journal. One of the commonest symptoms of an E. coli infection is gastroenteritis, an irritation of the stomach and small intestine which results in severe diarrhea. People who developed gastroenteritis from E. coli contamination in their water supply were found to have an increased risk of hypertension (high blood pressure), kidney problems, and heart disease.
The research drew on findings of the Walkerton Health Study, a large-scale follow-up of an outbreak of E. coli in the drinking water of a town in Western Ontario, Canada. In 2000, heavy rains caused animal wastes from a farm to pollute a shallow well that was part of the city’s water supply. The well water was not adequately treated with chlorine, and water contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 and Campylobacter bacteria flowed into the community water supply, exposing thousands of people. More than 2300 people suffered gastrointestinal illness. Over 750 were seen in emergency care, and 65 required hospitalization. There were 27 cases of hemolytic uremic syndrome, the most serious complication of E. coli infection, in which the bacteria attack the kidneys. Seven people died.
At the time of the outbreak, infectious disease researchers suspected that severe E. coli infections had long-term consequences. A research team convinced the Canadian government to fund a multi-year follow-up study to evaluate the health consequences for the victims of the outbreak. The Walkerton Health Study is a milestone in public health, the first large-scale study of the long-term health effects of E. coli infection.
Researchers offered the follow-up free of charge, and almost 2000 Walkerton adults took part. Of these, 54 percent had suffered acute gastroenteritis. For eight years after the outbreak they completed a health survey, and had physical examinations and laboratory testing. Researchers looked for occurrences of hypertension, kidney problems, and cardiovascular diseases.
Over the eight-year follow-up, people who had suffered acute gastroenteritis had significantly higher rates of disease. A third more of them showed high blood pressure than their uninfected counterparts. Their risk of kidney problems as 3.4 times as high, and their risk of heart attack and stroke was twice as high.
This study confirms that an E. coli infection is not only dangerous at the time of the acute infection, but also carries severe long term-health risks. Anyone suffering an E. coli infection with severe diarrhea should be evaluated medically and followed long-term with a view to reducing possible long-term injury to blood vessels and kidneys.
If you or a loved one have suffered a serious E. coli infection and you believe that improper food handling or other negligence contributed to your illness, you should talk with an experienced food safety attorney to determine whether you may have a claim.