At least 35 people have died from the E. coli outbreak in Germany amid government warnings that more fatalities are expected. The source has long been identified: organic sprouts from a farm in the north of the country.
The EHEC strain severely disrupts the digestive system
Germany's health minister said Sunday at least 35 people had died of complications caused by the rare E. coli strain that has spread from Germany throughout Europe.
"More fatalities cannot be ruled out, painful as it is to say," Health Minister Daniel Bahr told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper, two days after the source was identified as sprouts grown at an organic farm in the north of the country.
"The continuing fall in the number of new infections gives grounds for optimism," Bahr added. "But that does not rule out more cases."
Bahr: More fatalities cannot be ruled out
The Robert Koch Institute (RKI), Germany's center for national disease protection, said Sunday that, despite the rising death toll, the rate of new infections had continued to abate.
All but one of the 35 deaths from the EHEC (enterohaemorrhagic E. coli) strain have been in Germany, with the other being a woman in Sweden who had recently travelled to Germany.
Organ transplants for EHEC sufferers
Over 3,200 people have come down with the bacterial illness, with it now having spread to 14 countries in Europe as well as the United States and Canada, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). All but five cases were found in people who lived in or had recently visited Germany.
In some cases in Germany the bacterium has led to the serious kidney ailment haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS), which the WHO has confirmed in 812 patients.
In Germany, around 100 patients with HUS have suffered such significant kidney damage that they will need organ transplants "or will require dialysis treatment for the rest of their lives," Karl Lauterbach, a health expert for Germany's Social Democrats, told the Bild am Sonntag.
"This wave of EHEC and haemolytic uraemic syndrome cases in Germany is the most significant recorded in the world to date," said Nele Boehme, spokeswoman for the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR).
Farm responsible 'did nothing wrong'
German authorities are now confident as to where the outbreak began, having identified vegetable sprouts at an organic farm in Lower Saxony as the source.
Sprouts are to blame - not necessarily the producer
Notwithstanding its responsibility for the outbreak, authorities said the farm in Bienenbüttel, which produced sprouts from produce including lettuce, alfalfa and lentils, had done nothing wrong, with Lower Saxony Agriculture Minister Gert Lindemann even lauding its "high hygiene standards."
The RKI has yet to rescind its warning against bean sprouts, though it has said cucumbers, lettuce, and tomatoes - produce earlier suspected of carrying the pathogen - can once again be eaten without harm.
In response to the massive losses incurred by European farmers due to the false alarms, the European Commission has offered a compensation package of 210 million euros ($303 million).
Unions in Germany have said the aid is not enough for farmers who have struggled for weeks to sell produce - at the height of the cucumber and tomato season. They are calling for damages to the tune of 600 million euros.
Author: Gabriel Borrud (AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Sean Sinico