Skip to main content
hpa logo
Topics A-Z:
Search the site:

Haemolytic-uraemic syndrome (HUS)

What is haemolytic-uraemic syndrome or HUS?

Haemolytic-uraemic syndrome (HUS) is a disorder that usually occurs when an infection, usually E. coli, in the digestive system produces toxins which cause blood and kidney disease.

What causes it?

HUS can occur some days after someone has had diarrhoea. It is most commonly associated with E. coli O157 but can be caused by other E. coli strains as was seen in the E. coli O104 outbreak in Germany in the summer of 2011.

Who gets HUS?

HUS is most common in children and the elderly. It is normally quite a rare complication from E. coli infection although it is the most common cause of acute kidney failure in children. Out of approximately 1,000 E. coli O157 cases reported each year in the UK, we would normally see approximately 100 cases of HUS, usually in children under 16.

Adults can get another disease called thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (TTP) affecting the blood, which is similar to HUS but can affect the brain and nervous system.

What are the symptoms?

People who get HUS usually have diarrhoea first, which may be bloody. People who experience bloody diarrhoea should consult their doctor for advice. Parents of children with bloody diarrhoea should seek urgent medical attention for their child.

Can you get mild HUS or is it always very serious?

HUS is a serious condition, however most people recover. Mortality is higher in the elderly who have other underlying health conditions.

What is the treatment for HUS?

Treatment may involve:

  • Dialysis
  • Medications such as corticosteroids 
  • Transfusion of red blood cells and platelets

Some people may have the liquid portion of their blood (plasma) removed and replaced with fresh (donated) plasma, or their plasma is filtered to remove antibodies from the blood.

Are all the people that are ill with bloody diarrhoea or HUS in hospital?

People who have been diagnosed with HUS, which requires a number of different tests, will be in hospital receiving treatment.

People who have bloody diarrhoea may either be treated in hospital or at home. Treatment is usually supportive care such as rehydration.

HUS support groups

Haemolytic Uraemic Syndrome Help (HUSH)  [external link] is a charitable organisation, which was set up in 1997 following the outbreak of E. coli O157 in Central Scotland to offer a support network for sufferers and their families, increase awareness and provide information about HUS.

The Health Protection Agency and HUS

A HPA funded follow-up study of Paediatric HUS cases is being run between October 2011 and October 2012. It is administered by the British Paediatric Surveillance Unit (BPSU) and aims to measure the incidence of HUS in the UK and Ireland and describe clinical and demographic features from this study for comparison with the previous BPSU study conducted between 1997 and 2001.