In January, Columbia University revealed that four patients at its Irving Medical Center in New York had been sick with an unusual version of E. coli , a common gut bacterium. Although the news largely escaped attention in the media, it ricocheted through the world of infectious disease experts. E. coli is a relatively common bacterium and benign when it’s in the gut, where it usually lives, but in the wrong places—such as in lettuce or ground beef, or our bloodstream—it can turn deadly. When antibiotics prove ineffective against an E. coli infection, as many as half the patients with it die within two weeks.

Scanning electron micrograph of Escherichia coli

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