German-grown bean sprouts have been identified as the most likely potential source of the deadly E. coli outbreak in the north of Germany, authorities said on Sunday.
There was no definite proof as yet but "a connection has been found involving all the main outbreaks," Gert Lindermann, the agriculture minister for the state of Lower Saxony, told a news conference.
In a statement, the ministry also advised Germans to "not eat any bean sprouts right now," adding that definite results from the laboratory would be available only on Monday.
The bacteria has so far killed 22 people and made over 2000 ill across Europe since being detected in northern Germany over three weeks ago.
Hospitals struggle with crisis
Germany's new health minister, Daniel Bahr, wrote in a newspaper article Sunday that hospitals in Hamburg had been inundated with E. coli patients and that "insufficient capacity" had led to an emergency situation.
"We're facing a tense situation with patient care," Bahr told Germany's mass-circulated Bild am Sonntag paper.
He added that hospitals outside Hamburg - Germany's second largest city - could be used to treat patients infected with the highly toxic bacterial strain.
Hospitals in Hamburg, where the outbreak began three weeks ago, have begun moving out patients with less serious illnesses to handle the surge of people stricken, Bahr said.
Author: Gabriel Borrud (dpa, AFP)
Editor: Andreas Illmer