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Review
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Overview and Historical Perspectives

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Review

Overview and Historical Perspectives

James B Kaper et al. Microbiol Spectr.

Abstract

In this overview, we describe the history of Shiga toxin (Stx)-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) in two phases. In phase one, between 1977 and 2011, we learned that E. coli could produce Shiga toxin and cause both hemorrhagic colitis and the hemolytic-uremic syndrome in humans and that the prototype STEC-E. coli O157:H7-adheres to and effaces intestinal epithelial cells by a mechanism similar to that of enteropathogenic E. coli. We also recognized that the genes for Stx are typically encoded on a lysogenic phage; that STEC O157:H7 harbors a large pathogenicity island that encodes the elements needed for the characteristic attaching and effacing lesion; and that the most severe cases of human disease are linked to production of Stx type 2a, not Stx type 1a. Phase two began with a large food-borne outbreak of hemorrhagic colitis and hemolytic-uremic syndrome in Germany in 2011. That outbreak was caused by a novel strain consisting of enteroaggregative E. coli O104:H4 transduced by a Stx2a-converting phage. From this outbreak we learned that any E. coli strain that can adhere tightly to the human bowel (either by a biofilm-like mechanism as in E. coli O104:H4 or by an attaching and effacing mechanism as in E. coli O157:H7) can cause severe diarrheal and systemic illness when it acquires the capacity to produce Stx2a. This overview provides the basis for the review of current information regarding these fascinating and complex pathogens.

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