Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS)

2017 Outbreak News: An E. coli outbreak linked to I.M. Healthy SoyNut Butter products has sickened at least 23 people in 9 states, including several children who developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), the leading cause of kidney failure in children in the U.S. We just learned that E. coli and HUS  at Montessori of Alameda, Portland, Oregon, are part of the I.M. Healthy SoyNut Butter outbreak.

“The young children sickened in this outbreak are now at risk for future kidney disease, particularly those who developed hemolytic uremic syndrome,” said Brendan Flaherty, a food safety lawyer who recently won $7.55 million for a child who lost 50% of her kidney function and is predicted to require dialysis and kidney transplantation in her early twenties. Contact Brendan at 1-888-377-8900 (toll free).

Our law firm filed an E. coli-HUS lawsuit against The SoyNut Butter Company for one of the 7 children who developed HUS in this outbreak. Attorneys Brendan Flaherty and Ryan Osterholm are representing little M.R., who almost died when his kidneys shut down. If you are a parent and have questions about a lawsuit on behalf of your child, you can contact Brendan and Ryan for a free consultation.

Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome and Kidney Failure

Hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) is a severe complication of E. coli poisoning. It is characterized by damage and destruction of the red blood cells, which leads to a lower than normal number of red blood cells (a condition called anemia), blood clots, and damage to blood vessel walls.

E coli

This is a low-temperature electron micrograph of a cluster of E. coli. Toxins created by this dangerous bacteria cause this and other serious complications.

Following intestinal damage from the infection, Shiga toxins created by the bacteria gain access to the blood stream and find their way into the kidneys. There the toxins damage the thin layer of cells that line the interior surface of tiny blood vessels in the glomerulus .  Red blood cells are damaged and make tiny blood clots (thrombi) in the filtering system.  The result is kidney failure and a host of other severe medical problems.

It is impossible to describe just how horrendous this disease is. Little children can have renal failure, strokes, heart attacks and respiratory failure. Some do not survive. This can happen with one bite of tainted food, and companies that sell that food need to be held accountable.

Filing a Lawsuit for Compensation May Be the Only Way to Get Justice

Unlike most countries, the U.S. government generally does not press criminal charges against corporate CEOs and other executives for selling tainted products. This makes filing a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit even more important. This is often the only way to get any justice.

Our law firm is one of the very few in the U.S. that regularly represents clients, both children and adults, in these cases. Some of our clients have gone on to be food safety advocates, working to make legislative changes and educate the public about foodborne illness. Our E. coli-HUS lawyers regularly speak to various audiences about food safety.

Why Does My Child Have Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome?

E. coli Bacteria

Under a magnification of 6836x, this colorized scanning electron micrograph (SEM) depicts gram-negative Escherichia coli O157:H7.

Both adults and children can develop this complication, but children are most at risk. Most children who are diagnosed with this disease consumed food or water contaminated with E. coli H7:O157, a specific serotype of the bacteria that is particularly dangerous.  According to some studies, as many as 15 percent of children who are infected with E. coli develop this complication.

In many cases the child is one of many who were sickened in an outbreak. Past outbreaks have been caused by beef (ground, frozen hamburger patties and mechanically tenderized steak), lettuce, spinach, sprouts, raw (unpasteurized) milk and cheese made from this, unpasteurized apple cider, strawberries, hazelnuts, frozen pizza, other frozen food products, and cookie dough. In some outbreaks, a restaurant is linked to the illnesses, but the food source is not found. When this happens, the restaurant is legally responsible for the harm done by the food it served.

Illness can also be caused by contaminated water and contact with animals (petting zoos and fairs).

Other types of E. coli can cause this, including non-O157 serotypes O26, O45, O103, O111, O121 and O145. In rare cases, Shigella bacteria can cause it.

Your child and your family have the right to sue corporate wrongdoers for compensation. You can call 1-888-377-8900 (toll free) to contact our lawyers and get your free consultation. If you hire our law firm, you will have no upfront costs, and we are not paid unless you win.

Can Our Family Sue for HUS and E. coli Food Poisoning?

Yes, your family can sue if your child’s illness can be linked to a food product and/or eating establishment (restaurant, deli, cafeteria). Children are most at risk for developing this complication, and they have legal rights. You can sue a corporate wrongdoer on behalf of your child and make sure your son or daughter has the finances needed for a lifetime of medical expenses caused by the contaminated food. Read: If my child developed HUS from E. coli O157:H7, should we sue?

Attorney Fred Pritzker has been helping people sickened by contaminated food for decades. He has spoken at Harvard Law School, Cornell University and other venues about food safety. He has also been quoted by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Associated Press, CNN and many others. Contact Fred for a free consultation.

Testimonial of Client With HUS Kidney Damage

“My case was settled for several million dollars. It is comforting to know that when I am no longer able to work, I will still be able to provide for my family. Right now I am going to school and cannot work because school and work is just too much for my kidney disease. The doctors also say that I might have trouble having children because of the disease.”  Read the full testimonial.

Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome Complications

HUS complications are severe and can include the following:

  • Anemia and associated blood complications;
  • Abnormal kidney function;
  • Kidney failure (renal failure) that may require a kidney transplant (renal transplant) – illness accompanying kidney failure is called uremia (develops when urea and other waste products are retained in the blood);
  • Gall stones – probably caused by rapid hemolysis, breaking open of red blood cells and the release of hemoglobin;
  • Elevated pancreatic enzyme levels that could lead to insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus and or pancreatitis;
  • Central Nervous System (CNS) disturbances such as irritablilty, behavior changes, disorientation, delerium, hallucinations, dizziness and tremors;
  • Seizures;
  • Coma;
  • Stroke;
  • Encephalopathy;
  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS);
  • Convulsions;
  • Heart problems, including heart attack (myocardial infarction), cardio myopathy, cardiogenic shock, congestive heart failure;
  • Cortical blindness, caused by damage to the visual area in the brain’s occipital cortex;
  • Thrombocytopenia (platelet deficiency in the blood); and
  • Wrongful Death.

With careful and aggressive medical attention, the risk of fatality is less than four percent. Up to 30 percent of the children who survive the disease, however, will be left with permanent damage to their kidneys. Children who recover usually do so quickly, while afflicted adults may experience longer recovery times since kidney damage is usually more extensive in adult cases.

Recent studies show that HUS is now the most common cause of renal failure for children in the U.S. It is recommended that people who recover undergo long-term follow-up and observation to monitor for the potential onset of chronic kidney disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), and chronic neurological damage.

Approximately 7,500 cases are diagnosed each year in the U.S.  Read the HUS FAQ page. Read about the symptoms of hemolytic urmic syndrome.

Acute Encephalopathy in a Pregnant Woman

A 26-year-old pregnant woman (31 weeks) contracted an E. coli O111 infection after eating at a restaurant in Japan (see number 6 below, Ito). After 4 days, she was admitted to the hospital with extremely bloody diarrhea and severe abdominal pain.

Upon admittance to the hospital, antibiotics were administered.

The baby was delivered by C-section at 32 weeks. Although small, the baby lived.

The mother, however, went into respiratory arrest and had a heart attack (cardiac arrest). Her resulting Glasgow Coma Scale score was 11. She was diagnosed with HUS and put on hemodiafiltration and plasma exchange therapy.

The damage to her brain was significant. She had diffuse brain cortex damage and acute encephalopathy. When she emerged out of a coma on the 14th day after the C-section, she had to have rehabilitation to recover motor and cognitive functions.

Scientific Literature

Below are a few of the many articles discussing this deadly disease. Our lawyers do a lot of work in this area and keep up with the literature. You can contact one of our lead lawyers to discuss the issues raised in the articles below or your need for legal representation. Call 1-888-377-8900 (toll free) to contact Fred Pritzker, Brendan Flaherty, Ryan Osterholm or Eric Hageman. Because of the severity of this illness, our lawyers, upon invitation by the family, often visit clients in the hospital.

  1. A study looked at 259 children with O157:H7 infections, 36 of whom developed this complication. The researchers concluded: “Antibiotic use during E. coli O157:H7 infections is associated with a higher rate of subsequent HUS and should be avoided.” Wong, Craig S., et al. “Risk factors for the HUS in children infected with Escherichia coli O157: H7: a multivariable analysis.” Clinical Infectious Diseases 55.1 (2012): 33-41 9.
  2. Another study concluded that the use of antibiotics may cause this complication: “Individuals infected with O157 infection presenting with a more severe illness were at an increased risk of developing the deadly complication. The use of bactericidal antibiotics, particularly β-lactams, to treat O157 infection was associated with the subsequent development of HUS.” Smith, Kirk E., et al. “Antibiotic treatment of Escherichia coli O157 infection and the risk of HUS, Minnesota.The Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal 31.1 (2012): 37-41.
  3. A higher risk of heart, kidney (renal) and pancreatic problems was found for patients who had experienced kidney failure and needed dialysis treatment: “Dialysis patients with HUS were at significantly higher risk than matched control patients for hospitalizations due to cardiovascular, hematologic, and pancreatic disease, which were associated with ongoing TMA [thrombotic microangiopathy].” Brunelli, Steven M., et al. “Consequences of HUS among hemodialysis patients.” Journal of Nephrology 28.3 (2015): 361-367.
  4. This article provides a detailed discussion of the risks. This study found that the most damage occurs in the kidneys: “The kidneys bear the brunt of the long-term damage: proteinuria [high quantities of protein in the urine] (15-30 % of cases); hypertension [high blood presssure] (5-15 %); chronic kidney disease (CKD; 9-18%); and end-stage kidney disease (ESKD; 3 %).” Other areas at risk were also discussed: “A smaller number have . . . colonic strictures [narrowing of section of colon], cholelithiasis [gallstones], diabetes mellitus or brain injury.” The length of time the kidneys are not producing urine and the length of dialysis were found to be “the most important risk factors for a poor acute and long-term renal outcome.”The study also looked at mortality rate: “The overall acute mortality rate of about 30% declined dramatically with the introduction of early dialysis for severely affected oligo-anuric patients. The acute mortality rate has improved to between 1 and 4 %, with most deaths occurring during the acute phase. Brain involvement is the most common cause of death, and less frequent causes are congestive heart failure, pulmonary hemorrhage, hyperkalemia/arrhythmia, and bowl perforation/hemorrhagic colitis. Older age at presentation in adults is associated with increased morbidity and mortality.” Spinale, Joann M., et al. “Long-term outcomes of Shiga toxin HUS.” Pediatric Nephrology 28.11 (2013): 2097-2105.
  5. This article focuses on central nervous system (CNS) damage, often manifested by seizures and coma. CNS damage, primarily damage to the brain, is the “primary cause of death” in these patients. The center of concern in this article is hydration and its connection to CNS damage: “In patients with STEC-HUS, hemoconcentration [low plasma volume] and hypovolemia [low blood plasma] may be responsible for more severe ischemic organ damage (both short and long term) at disease onset, and these signs should be regarded as risk factors for CNS damage and more severe TMA [thrombotic microangiopathy, or blood clots in the small blood vessels]. Therefore, we recommend that hydration status should be actively monitored in patients and that dehydration, when diagnosed, should be promptly corrected.” Ardissino, Gianluigi, et al. “Hemoconcentration: a major risk factor for neurological involvement in HUS.” Pediatric Nephrology 30.2 (2015): 345-352.
  6. This is a case report. Ito, M., et al. “Hemolytic–uremic syndrome with acute encephalopathy in a pregnant woman infected with epidemic enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli: characteristic brain images and cytokine profiles.” International Journal of Infectious Diseases 34 (2015): 119-121.

Our law firm has won lawsuits against national food and restaurant companies doing business in all 50 states: Alabama AL, Arkansas AK, California CA, Colorado CO, Connecticut CT, Delaware DE, District of Columbia DC, Florida FL, Georgia GA, Idaho ID, Illinois IL, Indiana IN, Iowa, Kansas KS, Kentucky KY, Louisiana LA, Maine ME, Maryland MD, Massachusetts MA, Michigan MI, Minnesota MN, Mississippi MS, Missouri MO, Montana MT, Nebraska NE, New Hampshire NH, New Jersey NJ, New York NY, North Carolina NC, North Dakota ND, Ohio OH, Oklahoma OK, Pennsylvania PA, Rhode Island RI, South Carolina SC, South Dakota SD, Tennessee TN, Texas TX, Vermont VT, Virginia VA, West Virginia WV, Wisconsin WI and Wyoming WY.