December 3, 2023

E.coli Use Flagella As Propellers and Anchors, Study Finds

Flagella aren’t just for swimming. For E.coli, these long tails that propel them through liquid, also function as anchors, establishing a hold on surfaces that allow the bacteria to settle in and colonize, according to a new study from Harvard researchers.

E.coli O157:H7 HUS Outbreak Romaine Lettuce“We demonstrate that flagella are able to reach into crevices, access additional surface area, and produce a dense, fibrous network,’” the researchers say in the abstract for the  study which was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) on March 18. The findings could lead to improved design of surfaces used in health care and food manufacturing settings.

Every year, more than 250,000 Americans contract infections from E.coli, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Symptoms of an E.coli infection, usually develop one to four days after exposure and can last up to a week. They  include severe and painful abdominal cramps, vomiting and diarrhea which is sometimes bloody. If the infection travels to the bloodstream it can be fatal.

This infection can develop into a condition called hemolytic uremic syndrome, which is a type of kidney failure. Shiga toxins produced by some E. coli bacteria destroy red blood cells, which travel to the kidneys. The dead cells clog the kidney’s tiny tubes, leading to destruction of the organ.

Last year there were three multi-state food poisoning outbreaks caused by by E.coli, one from spinach and spring mix, one from clover sprouts and another where the specific food source was never identified. So far this year, there has been one multi-state outbreak cause by E.coli. At least 27 people in 15 states have been sickened by Farm Rich brand frozen foods that were contaminated with E. coli.

More than 80 percent of those sickened are under 21 years of age. About 35 percent have been hospitalized. Two people have developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) which can lead to kidney failure.

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