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Hundreds of Escherichia coli (E. coli) strains are harmless, including those that thrive in the intestinal tracts of humans and other warm-blooded animals. These strains are part of the protective microbial community in the intestine and are essential for general health. Other strains, such as E. coli serotype O157:H7, cause serious poisoning in humans, including major disease outbreaks from contaminated food and other sources affecting about 70,000 people in the United States each year. In June 2011, an outbreak of infections involving Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, STEC 0104:H4, a very rare form of E. coli, occurred among hundreds of people in Germany, including several suspected U.S. cases involving people who recently traveled to Hamburg, Germany. The most likely source of infection was identified as tainted fenugreek seeds used to grow sprouts. Because STEC E. coli infections can be spread from person-to-person, the best protection is through careful hand-washing. Read more E. coli Overview

NIAID Role in E. coli Research

Escherichia coli bacteria
E. coli bacteria. Credit: CDC
NIAID supports the STEC Center, designed to facilitate the study of these bacteria. The Center serves as a repository for E. coli strains, characterizes the strains, and then distributes the strains to researchers for further study. Through NIAID-funded research, investigators are further defining the ways by which Shiga toxins produced by STEC result in kidney damage leading to hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which can lead to kidney failure. The primary goal of this research is to better understand how kidney disease progresses and how it may be prevented. Researchers are designing and testing antibodies and other therapies to treat STEC infection, and, therefore, prevent progression to severe HUS. Further studies are exploring vaccines to prevent STEC in animals and humans. More about NIAID’s Role in E. coli Research


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Last Updated March 15, 2012

Last Reviewed June 07, 2011