OBJECTIVE: To evaluate the incidence of hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) in Belgium and to determine the role of verocytotoxin-producing Escherichia coli O157:H7 and other serotypes (non-O157 VTEC). METHODS: Twenty-two centers, including the seven university hospitals, registered prospectively all cases of HUS; they collected clinical samples for isolation of VTEC strains and serum for detection of specific O-lipopolysaccharide antibodies. RESULTS: Forty-seven cases of HUS (including five incomplete cases) were recorded. Three cases were seen in non-residents. The incidence of complete HUS in Belgian residents was 4.3 cases/100 000 in children <5 years old, 1.8 cases/100 000 when all children <15 years were considered, and 0.42/100 000 when patients of all ages were taken into account. By combining bacteriologic and serologic results, evidence of VTEC infection was obtained in 64% of the patients, mainly but not exclusively in children with prodromal diarrhea. The 13 VTEC isolates belonged to serotypes O157:H7 (nine isolates), O26:H11, O121:H---, O145:H--- and O172:H--- (one each) and all produced VT2 (+VT2vh-a in three O157 strains) and were positive for the eaeA gene. CONCLUSIONS: The incidence rate found in this study and the high mortality and morbidity linked with this syndrome warrant further registration of pediatric and post-diarrheic adult HUS cases and also examination of stools for both O157 and non-O157 VTEC strains. For effective prevention of this disease, further study of the serotypes and accessory virulence factors associated with HUS is needed.