Scientists scramble to solve E. coli outbreak
By admin - Mon May 30, 1:31 pm
The outbreak is thought to be linked to contaminated cucumbers, but there are also concerns about other vegetables.
Consumers in Germany and Spain are being warned to cook all vegetables, and several governments are ordering products to be taken off the shelves while the investigation continues.
The E. coli outbreak has left 10 people dead and hundreds sick, with the majority of the victims in northern Germany.
Professor Rolf Stahl, who works at the main hospital in the northern city of Hamburg, says the death toll is likely to rise.
“We have been caught unaware by an epidemic on a scale which none of us has previously experienced,” he said.
“We now have around 20 patients who are very, very ill. Most of them are in intensive care and everyone here is working around the clock to care for them.”
Infectious diseases experts think the outbreak may be linked to cucumbers from Spain.
The vegetables could have become contaminated with human or animal fecal matter either at their source, during transportation or in Germany.
Scientists suspect tomatoes and lettuce may also be affected, and in northern Germany consumers are being advised to avoid those vegetables.
The warnings have angered some German farmers, who say they will suffer unnecessarily.
Spanish growers are not happy either; Fulgencio Torres, president of the producers’ organisation Hortyfruta, says German authorities should not have named Spain as the possible source before investigations were complete.
“We think they have been hasty because we know there are products that are not only from Spain … We have been told that of the four tests carried out, one of the samples has its origin in Holland,” he said.
Professor Peter Collingnon, an infectious diseases expert at the Australian National University, says the strain of E. coli is particularly aggressive.
“This particular strain seems to be causing what they call the hemolytic uremic syndrome and it seems to be a strain that hasn’t done this before or not very commonly done it before called 0104,” he said.
“Certain strains of E. coli produce a poison or a toxin called a Shiga toxin that causes people to have a bloody diarrhoea because it damages the lining of the large bowel and small bowel.
“In some people it is worse because either the toxin is absorbed into the blood stream or alternatively the red cells are so damaged in around the bowel that they then go and cause clotting in other areas including the kidney.
“In some people, a variation of it can cause clotting in other blood vessels including in blood vessels going to the brain and you can end up with damage to your brain or clots in those blood vessels.”
Professor Collignon says E. coli most commonly affects young children but in this outbreak adult women seem to be worst hit.
“One of the issues may be the food habits of women versus men,” he said.
“Women in some ways eat what we’d call generally healthier foods – fresh vegetables and salads,” he said.
“But perversely, in rare instances, and relatively this is rare, that may increase your risk because you haven’t cooked it before you’ve eaten it.”
There are also concerns that the deadly bacteria will be passed from person to person.
German federal and state ministers are meeting to discuss the outbreak.