The German institute responsible for disease control and prevention has reported 60 new cases of severe infection with the E. coli bacterium.
The director of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), Reinhard Burger, told the news show "Morgenmagazin" on ARD television that the patients were suffering from haemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS). HUS is a serious development that sometimes follows an E. coli infection, in which toxic metabolic products of the bacterium can cause kidney damage.
So far, at least three women in Germany have been confirmed to have died of the infection. Outbreaks have also been reported in Sweden, Denmark, Britain and the Netherlands.
On Thursday, the Hamburg Institute for Hygiene identified cucumbers from Spain as the source of the outbreak.
The Spanish health ministry has launched an investigation. Officials said authorities had contacted two farms in the provinces of Malaga and Almeria, where the cucumbers are believed to have come from.
However, the ministry also said a contamination within Germany itself could not be ruled out. This possibility was also mentioned by the managing director of one of the farms, who claimed that a load of cucumbers fell on the ground on the way to the Hamburg wholesale market.
The president of the German Farmers' Association, Gerd Sonnleitner, has meanwhile called for stricter regulations on imported vegetables. He told the daily "Rheinische Post" that there had to be uniform standards for the entire European Union.
He said the rules also should apply to third-world exporters. He added that German farmers also suffered when such an outbreak occurred, as consumers became generally more cautious.
German authorities have advised people not to eat cucumbers and generally be careful with raw vegetables. They are also looking at further possible sources of contaminated food, including cucumbers from the Netherlands.
The RKI says that the current E. coli outbreak is the worst ever on record in Germany, with more people infected in a week than otherwise in an entire year.
Author: Timothy Jones (dpa, AFP)
Editor: Nicole Goebel