Introduction: Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) are foodborne pathogens that may cause diarrhoeal outbreaks and occasionally are associated with haemolytic-uraemic syndrome (HUS). We report on STEC O26:H11 associated with a cluster of four HUS cases in South Africa in 2017.
Methodology: All case-patients were female and aged 5 years and under. Standard microbiological tests were performed for culture and identification of STEC from specimens (human stool and food samples). Further analysis of genomic DNA extracted from bacterial cultures and specimens included PCR for specific virulence genes, whole-genome sequencing and shotgun metagenomic sequencing.
Results: For 2/4 cases, stool specimens revealed STEC O26:H11 containing eae, stx2a and stx2b virulence genes. All food samples were found to be negative for STEC. No epidemiological links could be established between the HUS cases. Dried meat products were the leading food item suspected to be the vehicle of transmission for these cases, as 3/4 case-patients reported they had eaten this. However, testing of dried meat products could not confirm this.
Conclusion: Since STEC infection does not always lead to severe symptoms, it is possible that many more cases were associated with this cluster and largely went unrecognized.