Haemolytic Uraemic Syndrome

Or HUS for short.  Mainly caused by VTEC (Verocytotoxin producing E coli), esp serotype O157.  But note also:

  • Occasionally Pneumococcal
  • Atypical HUS – not infective, but a genetic complement disorder
  • D- HUS is the shorthand for HUS which manifests in absence of diarrhoeal illness.  Still worth looking for E coli O157, but need to look at other possibilities.


What it says on the tin!

  • Haemolysis
  • Uraemia

Mechanism is Thrombotic Microangiopathy, with microthrombi circulating that affect not just kidneys (producing uraemia) but also:

  • Thrombocytopenia,
  • MI/stroke/infarction
  • Encephalopathy


  • Acute dysentery eg campylobacter, shigella
  • Intussusception
  • Atypical HUS
  • Acute colitis (Ulcerative Colitis)

Although atypical HUS has a genetic cause, it is typically triggered by infection, esp respiratory tract, else diarrheal illness in 80% of kids, so may be difficult to exclude.  Consider in young infants, severe cases, non-colitis. Low C3 levels are a clue.

Acute colitis will usually have more extensive history or other clues.  The emphasis on managing these cases is on identifying toxic megacolon, and surgical intervention if necessary.  Antibiotics are recommended if high risk of infection (eg signs of sepsis) and/or immediately pre-surgery.


Features of established disease are:

  • Microangiopathic haemolysis
    • Falling Hb, Plts – clinically pallor, petechiae and bruising
    • Fragmented rbc’s on film
    • High LDH
    • Blood/protein on urinalysis (if there’s any urine being produced to collect)
  • Rising Urea/Creatinine

But ideally you get the diagnosis early, before too much damage has been done.  Clues are:

  • Rising LDH
  • Falling Plts
  • Oliguria
  • Blood/protein on urinalysis

Stool results, to confirm E coli O157, take 24-48hrs (culture and toxin test). Discuss with microbiology if stool culture negative, consider gene PCR, serology.

[Pediatr Int. 2009 Apr;51(2):216-9 PMID 19405919]


But not everyone who gets E coli O157 gets HUS. Some people get diarrhoea without progressing to colitis (prob the majority), some get colitis without progressing to HUS (only a minority).  Predictors of progression to HUS are:

  • Fever (usually not at presentation, but in history – not very specific)
  • WCC >11
    • Normal WBC provides reliable reassurance against progression to HUS in 9/10
    • WCC>11 predicts progression to HUS in 70–90% of children
  • Raised CRP

[Ikeda, Epid infection 2000; 124:343.  Archimedes, Arch Dis Child 2007]

Ikeda proposes scoring system of 2+ features of fever, high CRP and WCC – 32% sens cf 98% spec.

Public Health

Preventing further cases is as important as managing your case.  About 20% of cases in outbreaks are secondary, but this increases to over 50% of cases in under 6yrs.  Interestingly, secondary cases are usually other children in the nursery (but rarely adults) if pre-school, but family members if primary/secondary school age!  [BMC Infect Dis. 2009 Aug 28;9:144. doi: 10.1186/1471-2334-9-144] Notify Health Protection team on suspicion of E. coli O157 syndrome.


Controversial.  Would be considered for other infective dysenteries viz Clarithro for campylobacter, Cipro/cef for salmonella, Azithro for shigella.

But do they precipitate HUS in E coli O157? “Exposure to antibiotics (aOR 3.62; 95% CI, 1.23–10.6) in 1st week independently associated with development of HUS” [Wong 2012].  Current 2011 UK guidance states “The use of antibiotics should, therefore, be governed by good paediatric practice as indicated by needs other than the suspicion of enteric VTEC infection”.

Fluids etc

Loperamide has traditionally been associated with toxic megacolon in acute dysentery so is not advised.

Pain – can be significant with colitis.  Opiates, NSAIDs contraindicated given potential for megacolon or nephropathy.

IV fluid volume and sodium during E coli O157:H7 infections, esp in first 4 days of illness, associated with oligoanuric HUS:

  • 1.6x more likely to become oligoanuric if no IV fluids were given during the first 4 pre-HUS days

[Christina Hickey (St Louis) and Jim Beattie, prospective study Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2011;165(10):884-889. doi:10.1001/archpediatrics.2011.152]

Hence, seems reasonable to:

  • Give 20ml/kg at presentation
  • Rehydrate aggressively eg correct over 6-8hrs
  • Repeat boluses if urine output reduces


Since onset of HUS is from 5 to a maximum of 13 days into diarrhoea illness, there is a need to monitor those with suspected or proven E coli O157 without HUS viz repeat bloods at 5-7 days or earlier if symptoms worsen.  Consider admission if significant infection control issues eg young children/siblings.

Advanced Measures

  • Renal replacement therapy
  • Plasmapheresis (not done in Glasgow)
  • Eculizumab – drug of choice for aHUS, recommended for children in whom plasma exchange is technically difficult
  • Monoclonal antibodies vs STX1/2

Eculizumab = Recombinant monoclonal anti-C5 antibody. Orphan drug.  No good evidence from Germany, but they had good results from plasma exchange anyway.  Evidence from severe TTP that it is effective in cases resistant to immunosuppression and plasma exchange.