Fact Sheets : Hamburger Disease: Prevention is Best

What causes Hamburger Disease?

A bacterial germ called E.Coli-0157 causes of the so called "hamburger disease/infection". This bacteria is found in the intestines of cows and contaminates ground beef. The infection is contracted by eating undercooked ground beef which contains this bacterium. E.coli 0157 can also infect humans if it gets into the drinking or pool water. This infection tends to occur more during the summer months.

What are the symptoms of Hamburger Disease infection?

The usual symptoms are diarrhea with some blood in it and severe abdominal pain. The reason that this infection can be dangerous is that in 2-7% of people (mostly the young or very old), a complication called Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS) can occur within a week or tw0 after the initial infection. HUS is caused by a toxin made by the bacteria called a verotoxin which causes the red blood cells to break down, resulting in severe anemia and the need for transfusion. This toxin also shuts down the kidneys causing kidney failure which in many cases requires dialysis. Unfortunately, HUS has a mortality rate of close to 5%. Among the survivors there can be a high rate of long term complications.

Is there a specific test for this infection?

Doctors cannot make this diagnosis just by the symptoms. However, A stool test can easily confirm that a person is infected with this particular bacteria.

What is the treatment?

Unfortunately, there currently is no specific effective treatment for this infection. Antibiotics do not help. Recently there have been some studies on a medication given to people that have the infection which tries to absorb the toxin before it causes damage. The studies are ongoing and so far inconclusive. Prevention of this infection is our best defense.

How can E.Coli-0157 infection be prevented?

  • Make sure hamburger (ground beef) meat is always kept refrigerated just until it gets cooked.
  • Hamburgers(ground beef)should always be well cooked - gray is not enough: The temperature of the meat must reach 70º C. At this temperature any bacteria present will be killed.
  • Make sure that frozen hamburgers are well cooked as they tend to need longer cooking times.
  • Be careful not to put cooked burgers in the same plate as the raw(uncooked) burgers.
  • Once cooked, hamburgers should be eaten immediately and not left on a plate.
  • Drinking water and water you swim in should be properly chlorinated and monitored.
  • If a child has the infection, make sure you prevent its spread by very thorough hand washing.
  • Avoid un-pasteurized juices and raw milk.
  • Wash uncooked fresh foods thoroughly.
  • Clean and disinfect all cooking surfaces after use.
  • Always practice good personal hygiene (hand washing, etc).