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E. coli threat

May 29, 2011

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has found that the recent E. coli outbreak in Germany is one of the most severe ever and the largest in Germany to date.

man looking at petri dish with e.coli culture
The recent outbreak has hit northern Germany the hardestImage: dapd

A risk assessment from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) in Stockholm, an EU agency tasked with monitoring diseases, has found that the E. coli outbreak in Germany is one of the most severe worldwide.

More than 1,000 people in Germany have been infected with a rare strain of E. coli, which can cause haemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS), an illness that can lead to acute kidney failure and cannot be treated with antibiotics.

Ten people have already died of the disease in the recent outbreak.

The ECDC noted that E. coli infections normally affect children, but that in this recent outbreak, it was mainly adults, and women in particular, who fell ill.

Raw vegetable warning

Germans have been advised not to eat raw vegetables, such as tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce.

"As long as the experts in Germany and Spain have not found the definitive source of the bacteria, we have to stick with our warnings against raw vegetables," Consumer Protection Minister Ilse Aigner told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

Spanish cucumbers are thought to be the source of the bacteriaImage: AP

On Friday, the European Commission said that two Spanish farms in Malaga and Almeria had been shut down after German experts identified Spanish cucumbers as the source of the E. coli bacteria.

But on Saturday, the Spanish authorities denied that the two farms had been closed temporarily. The regional health ministry of the Spanish region of Andalusia said that water, soil and cucumber samples from the farms were being analyzed, but that the shipping of produce had not been halted.

There have been no reported cases of E. coli in Spain and the authorities say it is by no means certain that the bacteria originated there.

The issue, which has threatened to cause a rift between Germany and Spain, will be on the agenda when EU agriculture ministers gather for a three-day meeting in the Hungarian town of Debrecen from Sunday.

Author: Nicole Goebel (dpa, Reuters, AFP)
Editor: Kyle James