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Laboratory investigation of hemorrhagic colitis outbreaks associated with a rare Escherichia coli serotype.

Two outbreaks of hemorrhagic colitis, a newly recognized syndrome characterized by bloody diarrhea, severe abdominal pain, and little or no fever, occurred in 1982. No previously recognized pathogens were recovered from stool specimens from persons in either outbreak. However, a rare E. coli serotype, O157:H7, was isolated from 9 of 20 cases and from no controls. It was also recovered from a meat patty from the implicated lot eaten by persons in one outbreak. No recovery of this organism was made from stools collected 7 or more days after onset of illness; whereas 9 of 12 culture-positive stools had been collected within 4 days of onset of illness. The isolate was not invasive or toxigenic by standard tests, and all strains has a unique biotype. Plasmid profile analysis indicates that all outbreak-associated E. coli O157:H7 isolates are closely related. These results suggest that E. coli O157:H7 was the causative agent of illness in the two outbreaks.

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