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German E. coli strain combines deadly properties of two pathogens

The E. coli strain that infected thousands in Germany, killing more than three dozen, has now been scrutinized by researchers who say the bug might have been so deadly because it combines the powers of two other types of E.coli — enabling it both to stick fast to the inside of the gut and to release a deadly toxin. This type of bacteria’s “stickiness” might abet the toxin’s absorption, leading to the unusually high number of cases of hemolytic-uremic syndrome, a potentially fatal kidney disorder, they report.

The E. coli strain responsible, O104:H4, appears to produce the same toxin, called a Shiga-like toxin, typical of enterohemorrhagic E. coli—the pathogen often associated with worst-case food outbreaks and known for causing hemolytic uremic syndrome.

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