E coli outbreak set to worsen

AN E COLI outbreak linked to contaminated cucumbers that has killed 14 people and made more than 300 seriously ill in Germany has spread to other north European countries and is expected to worsen in the coming week.

“We hope that the number of cases will go down but we fear that it will worsen,” said Oliver Grieve, spokesman for the University Medical Centre Schleswig-Holstein in north Germany.

The source of the virulent strain of the bacteria is unknown, authorities said, ahead of a crisis meeting of federal and state officials in Berlin.

The E coli pathogen has been identified on cucumbers imported from Spain but it is unclear if they were contaminated there, during transport or in Germany. There are 36 cases of suspected E coli in Sweden, all linked to travel in northern Germany, authorities said. A small number of cases have been reported in Britain, Denmark, France and the Netherlands, all linked with travel to Germany.

The German government has identified the pathogen as hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS), a serious complication of a type of E coli known as Shiga toxin-producing E coli (STEC), and said it had killed 14 people and made at least 329 ill.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said that the HUS/STEC outbreak is one the largest in the world of its kind. HUS affects the blood, kidneys and, in severe cases, the nervous system.

Spain, meanwhile, said yesterday it was considering taking action over Spanish cucumbers being blamed for the outbreak.

“There is no proof of this and so we will demand explanations from who has attributed this matter to Spain,” Diego Lopez Garrido, secretary of state for the European Union, said.

Farms in the region of Andalusia have been losing €7-€8 million a day since German authorities linked the bacteria to Spanish cucumbers last week.

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