What is Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome?
HUS is a condition that destroys red blood cells. The condition affects the blood and blood vessels which results in the destruction of blood platelets (cells involved in clotting), a low red blood cell count (anemia) and kidney failure due to damage to the very small blood vessels of the kidneys. Other organs, such as the brain or heart, may also be affected by damage to very small blood vessels.
Are There Different Types of HUS?
Yes. HUS is considered a syndrome because it is a combination of findings that may have different causes. In most cases, HUS occurs after a severe bowel infection with certain toxic strains of the bacteria called E. coli. It may also occur in response to certain medicines, but this is rare. Even more rarely, HUS occurs for unknown reasons.
What Causes Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome?
Hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS) is a serious complication that almost always results from E. coli O157:H7 food contamination. As a result of E-coli, most healthy adults suffer abdominal cramps and diarrhea which resolves in about a week. However, approximately 10% of the cases result in HUS, which could lead to kidney failure or death.
If food is contaminated with E. coli, the bacterium can infect the large intestine causing bloody diarrhea. If the E-coli toxins are absorbed into the blood stream, it can cause more serious complications, including sudden kidney failure.
Hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS) is associated with sudden decreases in blood platelets, destruction of red blood cells and kidney failure.
Rare cases of hemolytic uremic syndrome have also been linked to:
- Pregnancy / Postpartum Depression
- Medications (chemotherapy, immunosuppressive drugs, ticlopidine, and quinine)
How Does HUS Start?
HUS from E. coli infections results when bacterial toxins cross from the intestines into the bloodstream and damage the very small blood vessels. The toxic E. coli may come from eating spoiled, undercooked or poorly processed food products, or from exposure to contaminated water. HUS occurs most often in certain regions, such as the Pacific Northwest and Argentina.
Signs and Symptoms
Signs and symptoms of hemolytic uremic syndrome include:
- Bloody diarrhea
- Decreased urination or blood in the urine
- Abdominal pain, vomiting and occasionally fever
- Small, unexplained bruises or bleeding from the nose and mouth
- Fatigue and irritability
- Confusion or seizures
- High blood pressure
- Swelling of the face, hands, feet or entire body
How is Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome Diagnosed?
To confirm a diagnosis of HUS, your doctor is likely to perform a physical exam and recommend lab tests, including:
- Blood tests - Can determine if you did sustain significant kidney damage. Blood tests can also reveal a low platelet count, low red blood cell count or a higher than normal level of creatinine, a waste product normally removed by your kidneys.
- Urine test - Can detect abnormal levels of protein, blood and signs of infection in the urine.
- Stool sample - Can detect toxin-producing E. coli and other bacteria that can cause HUS.
If the cause of HUS is not clear, your doctor may also recommend additional tests to help determine the cause.
How Long Does Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome Last?
The first stage of HUS often lasts from 1 to 15 days and may include gastrointestinal symptoms including:
- Abdominal pain
- Bloody diarrhea
Severe problems in the bowel and colon may develop in some cases. In these cases, even if the gastroenteritis has stopped, the patient may still have the following symptoms:
- Small, unexplained bruises or small, clot-sized hemorrhages visible in the mucosal lining of the mouth
The patient may produce little urine because damaged red blood cells and other factors may clog the tiny blood vessels in the kidneys or cause scars in the kidneys. This makes the kidneys work harder to remove wastes and extra fluid from the blood.
The body can't get rid of excess fluid and waste may, in turn, cause:
- High blood pressure
- Swelling of the hands and feet
- Fluid buildup (edema)
- Avoid unpasteurized milk, juice and cider.
- Wash hands well before eating and after using the restroom and changing diapers.
- Clean utensils and food surfaces often.
- Cook meat to an internal temperature of at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Defrost meat in the microwave or refrigerator.
- Keep raw foods separate from ready-to-eat foods. Don't place cooked meat on plates previously contaminated by raw meat.
- Store meat below produce in the refrigerator to reduce the risk of liquids such as blood dripping on produce.
- Avoid unclean swimming areas. Don't swim if you have diarrhea.
What is E. Coli 0157:H7?
E. coli O157:H7 is one of the hundreds of strains of Escherichia coli. Although most strains are harmless and live in the intestines of healthy humans and animals, O157:H7 produces a powerful toxin and can cause severe illness. Approximately 2 – 7% of E. coli O157 infections lead to hemolytic uremic syndrome, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
What is Shiga Toxin-Producing (STEC) E. Coli?
Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC), which may also be referred to as Verocytotoxin-producing E. coli (VTEC) or enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC), is the pathotype of E. coli that is most often associated with food poisoning outbreaks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Most cases of infection occur by eating contaminated food, particularly raw or undercooked meat. Infections can also develop from eating any product that has been contaminated with STEC, including lettuce, alfalfa sprouts, salami, and raw (unpasteurized) milk, juice, or cider. Symptoms of STEC infections can vary, but most often include severe diarrhea, stomach cramps, and vomiting.
What Foods May Be Contaminated with E. Coli?
Although E. coli O157:H7 is most commonly seen as a result of undercooked hamburger meat, it has also been found in other meats, produce, milk and certain juices. Contamination can occur from improper handling on the farm, errors by the manufacturer, mistakes by the retailer or failure to fully cook meat.
Acute Kidney Failure
Most patients with hemolytic uremic syndrome experience almost complete recovery and nearly no risk of recurring symptoms. With careful and aggressive treatment, the risk of death from hemolytic uremic syndrome is less than 4%.
However, up to 30% of children who survive the condition will be left with permanent damage to their kidneys. Children who recover usually do so quickly, while adults may experience longer recovery times since kidney damage is usually more extensive in adult cases.
What Happens if Kidney Failure Occurs?
When HUS causes mild kidney failure, close attention to the patient, especially to fluid volume, may be all that is necessary for adequate treatment. When it causes severe kidney failure (when kidney performance is less than 10% of normal), dialysis may be needed to do the work of the kidneys.
Different forms of dialysis may be used depending on each individual's needs. Most HUS patients that require dialysis ultimately recover their kidney function.
Complications of HUS
Hemolytic uremic syndrome is characterized by damage and destruction of the red blood cells, which leads to a lower than normal number of red blood cells (anemia), blood clots, and damage to blood vessel walls. Complications of hemolytic uremic syndrome are severe and can include:
- Hemolytic anemia and associated blood complications
- Abnormal kidney function
- Permanent kidney failure
- Chronic renal failure
- Kidney transplant
- Damaged red blood cells
- Gall stones
- Elevated pancreatic enzyme levels that could lead to insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus
- Central nervous system disturbances such as irritability, behavior changes, disorientation, delirium, hallucinations, dizziness, and tremors
- Respiratory disease syndrome
- Heart problems, including heart attack (myocardial infarction), cardio myoptahy, cardiogenic shock, congestive heart failure
- Cortical blindness
- Thrombocytopenia (platelet deficiency in the blood)
What are the Chances of Recovery from HUS?
Over 85% of patients with the most common form of HUS recover complete kidney function. However, even with full recovery, there is the chance for high blood pressure or other kidney problems in the years ahead. In general, the outlook in HUS is related to the severity of involvement of other organs such as the brain, pancreas, liver or heart.
What is the Survival Rate of HUS?
In the 1950s, there was a 40% death rate with HUS; now, in developed countries, the mortality rate is 2-4%. Patients today very rarely die directly from the acute renal failure associated with HUS.
Severe Cases of HUS
Unfortunately, not everyone is lucky enough to recover from hemolytic uremic syndrome.
Some may experience end-stage renal disease (ESRD) or even die. What’s more, kidney problems are very expensive to treat, so medical bills rack up quickly.
ESRD is when the kidneys stop functioning completely, meaning they can no longer remove waste from the blood, flush waste products out from the body, and regulate other crucial bodily functions.
Usually, ESRD is diagnosed when kidneys can only function at 10% or less of their normal capacity. When patients reach this point, they have no choice but to start receiving regular dialysis treatments or a kidney transplant, as the mortality rate for long-term ESRD resulting from HUS is 12%.
If someone you love dies as a result of complications from HUS, you may be able to file a wrongful death claim against the restaurant or company responsible for the E. coli infection.
Specific preventative measures for treating hemolytic uremic syndrome are the same as protecting yourself from an E. coli infection:
- Wash hands, utensils, and food surfaces thoroughly and often.
- Keep raw foods separate from ready-to-eat foods.
- Defrost raw meat in your microwave or refrigerator, and do not leave meat on the counter to thaw.
- Cook ground beef to at least 160 F - hamburgers should always be well-done.
- Wash fruits and vegetable under running water.
- Avoid pasteurized milk, juice, and cider.
- Avoid swimming in water potentially contaminated with feces.
Should I Hire an Attorney for my Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome Case?
Hiring an attorney for your HUS case is the best way to protect you or your loved one’s health and financial future. When you file a Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome lawsuit, you have the burden of proof in regard to fault and your financial losses (damages). That means a strong case must be built for you to succeed.
While you recover in the hospital or focus on your loved one, your attorney can conduct a thorough investigation. That will involve helping you consult a medical professional to determine the specific pathogen that caused the illness, as well as tracing it back to its source.
These facts can be vital to proving the legitimacy of your claim in a court of law, and ultimately obtaining financial compensation from the negligent party. However, even if the specific food product responsible for the HUS diagnosis is never discovered, you may still have a claim for compensation. Especially if a link can be made between you and other people who also became ill.
A Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome attorney with experience handling food safety cases can significantly increase the chance of your claim’s success. Due to the severity of HUS, victims are often left with extensive damages.
Having someone on your side who understands the legal process, and applicable product liability laws will ensure you receive compensation to cover your ongoing and future financial needs.
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What Can I Expect From Hiring a HUS Lawyer?
Because food is considered a product, a HUS lawsuit will fall under product liability law. Consumers have the right to expect that food being sold is safe, which is why if a product causes an illness, then you have the right to file a product liability lawsuit. The first step after hiring a lawyer is gathering evidence. There are 3 legal theories on which your claim can be based on:
- Strict Liability - A product was defective and as a result caused an injury. Proving that food you consumed was contaminated and caused your illness is sufficient enough to recover compensation, without proving negligence.
- Breach of Warranty - Most products have an implied or expressed warranty that they are safe to use or consume, and will not poison you. A contaminated food product breaches this implied warranty.
- Negligence - A party failed to show reasonable care when making or distributing the product. For example, a restaurant stored the contaminated food in unsanitary conditions.
Get a Free Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome Lawsuit Evaluation With Our Lawyers
The Food Poisoning Litigation Group at our law firm is an experienced team of trial lawyers that focus exclusively on the representation of plaintiffs in hemolytic uremic syndrome food poisoning lawsuits. We are handling individual litigation nationwide and currently accepting new injury and death cases in all 50 states.