What is EHEC?

The EHEC (abbreviation of enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli) is a bacterium that causes lethal intestinal infections. Infection with the EHEC pathogen, often mistakenly referred to as a virus (EHEC virus), is usually associated with bloody diarrhea (enterohaemorrhagic colitis). Women, infants and the elderly are particularly often infected with the EHEC bacterium.

Symptoms of EHEC infection

The EHEC pathogen is highly infectious and is therefore considered by the WHO to be one of the most dangerous germs. But how does an EHEC infection develop? Just a few microbes are enough to attack an organism and cause lasting damage. It produces a poison that destroys intestinal and nerve cells and damages the blood vessels. Symptoms of EHEC infection are:

  • Watery, bloody diarrhea
  • nausea
  • stomach pain
  • Vomit

If these EHEC symptoms are not treated, it will lead to anemia or kidney failure in the further course of the infection, which can be fatal. According to the Robert Koch Institute, between 900 and 1, 200 diseases are registered every year in Germany, but these are generally mild.

EHEC: incubation period and therapy

The average incubation period of an EHEC infection is between two and ten days; on average, the first EHEC symptoms usually appear after three to four days. In EHEC diagnostics, the patient's fluid stool is screened in the laboratory. The goal is to isolate the pathogen with a toxin detection. If the diagnosis results in an EHEC infection, a therapy with antibiotics may follow. However, this therapy is controversial, as the drugs can worsen the clinical picture.

In any case, it is important to balance the salt loss and fluid loss resulting from diarrhea in EHEC therapy. In severe cases, this requires hospitalization, where patients must undergo dialysis for blood-washing. Also blood transfusions and plasma exchange are occasionally used in EHEC infections. Basically, however, the EHEC bacterium can not be treated properly, which is why infection is best prevented by hygiene and caution.


The highly fermented bacterial strain O104: H4 caused an extremely rapid spread of EHEC infections. While in Germany usually about 1, 000 EHEC infections are reported per year, between May 1 and June 15, 2011, there were already 3, 244 illnesses and 36 fatalities. Disproportionately many patients developed the hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which occurs in a particularly severe course of EHEC infection.

HUS can lead to kidney failure and anemia, which can be life threatening. How exactly it came to these severe EHEC infections including HUS, is still not clear. Experts suspect, however, that the pathogen was transmitted by eating raw sprouts.

EHEC bacteria prevent

Of course, EHEC bacteria are found in the intestines of farm animals such as cattle, sheep and goats, and occasionally in wild animals. Therefore, the EHEC bacterium is often transmitted when eating raw meat, fresh milk or raw food. Therefore, be careful when preparing food: chopping boards, knives and other accessories when cooking with meat, always thoroughly with hot water, buy H milk instead of fresh milk and wash raw vegetables well, especially if it was fertilized with liquid manure. Preventively, all fresh food should be heated for at least ten minutes at 70 degrees to kill the EHEC pathogen.

Basically, the usual hygienic measures apply: Before preparing food, before eating and after going to the toilet thoroughly wash your hands with soap, clean the kitchen and bath regularly and keep as far as possible when contacting animals to EHEC bacteria out of the way go.

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