3 JUN 2011
By Derek Scally | Irish Times (Madrid and Berlin at odds as almost 200 new cases of E.coli reported
THE GERMANY E.coli epidemic continues to gather pace with almost 200 new cases reported over the last 24 hours amid a bad-tempered spat between Berlin and Madrid over Spanish cucumbers.
Yesterday authorities confirmed more than 1,500 infections with enterohaemorrhagic E.Coli (EHEC) bacteria and 470 confirmed cases of the serious, haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS).
So far 17 people have died from the outbreak – including the first death yesterday in the Czech Republic – as authorities continue their hunt for the source of the contamination.
German agriculture minister Ilse Aigner has dismissed accusations of incompetence after suspicions were aired that Spanish vegetables were behind an epidemic caused by the EHEC bacterium.
“We cannot rule anything out at the moment,” said Ms Aigner on German television, confirming that the variant of E.coli behind the epidemic was not that found on vegetables purchased in Hamburg.
“EHEC pathogens were still found on Spanish cucumbers and EU regulations state that a warning has to be issued immediately.” Hamburg health minister Cornelia Prüfer-Storcks said her ministry had reacted correctly to positive test results.
The EHEC bacterium largely originates in cattle. When it enters the food chain, usually through faecal contamination, it generates toxins in humans that cause the haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS). In its most aggressive form, it can attack the nervous system and cause potentially fatal kidney failure.
Germany’s Robert Koch Institute for infections diseases confirmed 470 HUS cases in total yesterday, up from 373 on Tuesday. All patients have been hospitalised with similar symptoms: stomach cramps, bloody diarrhoea and kidney problems.
Spanish authorities have threatened to sue the Hamburg state government ministry for damages incurred by Spanish vegetable growers. Following warnings by Hamburg authorities, Spanish produce has vanished from supermarket shelves across the continent, triggering losses for Spanish growers estimated at €200 million a week, with 70,000 sector jobs threatened.
Spanish deputy prime minister Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba dismissed German claims of vegetable contamination.
“Such a pathogen has never been found in Spain,” said Mr Rubalcaba in a radio interview. “That means these bacteria are not here in Spain. And if they are not here, the illness can’t have come from Spain.” Czech authorities confirmed the first EHEC-related fatality, an American tourist who had recently arrived from northern Germany where she is believed to have eaten vegetables and salads.
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Health Official Says E. Coli Strain Was Previously Unknown