Authorities in Finland are investigating a number of suspected E. coli outbreaks in recent months to see if they are connected.

The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) has received nine reports of suspected Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) alerts from across Finland from June to August. In five of these reports, patients are infected with E. coli O103.

In this period, 45 cases of E. coli O103 have been detected by the THL laboratory. Serotyping of another 22 strains is ongoing.

Investigations to find potential sources of infection to connect the patients are continuing with local authorities and the Finnish Food Authority (Ruokavirasto).

This work includes interviewing sick people, sequencing patient samples and tracing the foods identified in the interviews.

Since 2016, an average of 200 E. coli infections have been reported to the Infectious Diseases Register each year. More than half of these come from abroad.

E. coli O103 is one of the most common types of the pathogen found in patients in Finland. It has previously been detected in cattle and raw milk and caused an outbreak in 2014 traced to contaminated water.

None of the E. coli O103 patients from 2001 to 2020 interviewed in Finland were diagnosed with hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which can lead to kidney failure.

About E. coli infections
Anyone who has developed symptoms of E. coli infection should seek medical attention and tell their doctor about their possible food poisoning. Specific tests are required to diagnose the infections, which can mimic other illnesses.

The symptoms of E. coli infections vary for each person but often include severe stomach cramps and diarrhea, which is often bloody. Some patients may also have a fever. Most patients recover within five to seven days. Others can develop severe or life-threatening symptoms and complications, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

About 5 to 10 percent of those diagnosed with E. coli infections develop a potentially life-threatening kidney failure complication, known as a hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). Symptoms of HUS include fever, abdominal pain, feeling very tired, decreased frequency of urination, small unexplained bruises or bleeding, and pallor.

Some people with HUS recover within a few weeks, but others suffer permanent injuries or death. This condition can occur among people of any age but is most common in children younger than five years old because of their immature immune systems, older adults because of deteriorating immune systems, and people with compromised immune systems such as cancer patients.

People who experience HUS symptoms should immediately seek emergency medical care. People with HUS will likely be hospitalized because the condition can cause other serious and ongoing problems such as hypertension, chronic kidney disease, brain damage, and neurologic problems.

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