French authorities are looking into a death and a number of cases from a potentially fatal complication of E. coli infection.

Santé publique France and a lab associated with the National Reference Center for E. coli, Shigella and Salmonella at Institut Pasteur are investigating an increase in hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) and serious E. coli infections that have been reported since the beginning of February. HUS is a type of kidney failure that can result in lifelong, serious health problems and death.

Thirteen cases of HUS that appear to be related have occurred in five regions of France. No information has been revealed as yet about the types of E. coli involved. New Aquitaine has five cases, there are three each in Hauts-de-France and Ile-de-France and one each in Brittany and Pays de la Loire.

The sick children, from 1 to 15 years old with a median age of 8, fell ill between Jan. 18 and Feb. 11. One infant has died. The source of infection has not been identified and officials have not ruled out contaminated food, animal contact or person-to-person transmission as playing a role.

Looking for source and related infections
Santé publique France, the Directorate General for Food (DGAL), Directorate General for Competition, Consumption and the Repression of Fraud (DGCCRF), and Directorate General for Health are also analyzing 31 cases of pediatric HUS reported in 2022 to see if there is a link between them.

Epidemiological work includes surveying parents on the risk exposures of their children, such as the foods consumed.

Microbiological examinations are ongoing to identify the bacterial strain that infected each child to determine if they have similar characteristics and may have come from the same source.

In France, STEC surveillance is based on HUS in children younger than15, so only catches the most severe cases.

There were 167 HUS cases in the country in 2020 compared to 168 in 2019, according to data published by Santé publique France.

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.

Many people with HUS recover within a few weeks, but some 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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