Background: The veracity of the association between antibiotic use and hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) caused by Escherichia coli O157:H7 has been a topic of debate. We postulated that criteria used to define HUS affect this association. Methods: We reviewed 471 hospitalized E. coli O157:H7 cases reported in Washington State, 2005–2014, to determine HUS status by various case definitions and antibiotic treatment. We used age-adjusted logistic regression models to estimate the effect of treatment on HUS status according to four common, but heterogeneous, definitions: the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE) definition, hematology-focused and age-focused definitions from the literature, and hospital diagnosis. Results: Inter-annual variation in antibiotic use was high, but no meaningful change in antibiotic use was observed over this ten-year period. Thirteen percent of cases <18 years-old received antibiotics, compared to 54% of cases ≥18 years-old. The CSTE, hematology-focused, age-focused, and hospital diagnosis definitions identified 149, 57, 74, and 89 cases of HUS, respectively. The association between antibiotic treatment and HUS varied by definition: CSTE odds ratio (OR) 1.57 [95% confidence interval (CI) 0.98, 2.55]; hematology-focused OR 1.73 (95% CI 0.83, 3.54); age-focused OR 2.29 (95% CI 1.20, 4.39); and hospital diagnosis OR 1.94 (95% CI 1.01, 3.72). Conclusions: Each definition yielded an estimate of the association in the direction of increased risk of HUS with antibiotics. While the range of OR point estimates was relatively small, confidence intervals for two HUS definitions crossed the null and two did not, potentially altering the inference an investigator makes. Discrepant reports of the association between antibiotic use and HUS in the literature might be due in part to the choice of HUS definition, and a consistent definition of HUS should be adopted for research and public health purposes.
- E. coli O157:H7
- Hemolytic uremic syndrome
- Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli